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Gunn, Paly graduates reflect on their high school experiences

Original post made on Nov 15, 2013

Graduates of Gunn and Palo Alto high schools feel well prepared academically and socially for college, though more than a quarter say better writing instruction in high school would have been helpful.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 15, 2013, 12:00 AM

Comments (59)

Posted by hello, this is the internet
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2013 at 9:55 am

Please post a link to the survey.

Posted by hello, this is the internet
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Web Link

Look, no weird directions!

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2013 at 11:57 am

This issue of being over-prepared is interesting, and deserves some review by the PAUSD. The academic levels are generally set by the teaching staff, with some agreement by the school board. If the teachers/administration are not fully connected to the needs of college freshmen, maybe it's time to reconsider the expectations of the academic performance expected of the general student body.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Thank you to school officials for this feedback. What a shame that such a small percentage answered. Perhaps they are upset that they had to work so hard and want to forget. Or they worked so hard for "B"s and the colleges don't realize how difficult some of the classes are, even some regular lane classes. Thus, their GPAs weren't competitive for admission into second-tier colleges. Teachers need to distribute more "A"s; they are hurting GPAs by grading too hard. Don't confuse this with grade inflation, which means to pass out "A"s for mediocre work. Some teachers understand how to teach where students learn but are not stressed out. Others grade hard and pile on difficult work without regards to students' emotional health or GPAs because they think "B"s are okay and they want to pass out some "B"s even if students have "A" level work.

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Re the comment about lack of teaching how to write: Back in the 70s when I was in PAUSD, the middle school and high school English teachers were superior. Nearly every Paly Alum I have reconnected with on Facebook (200)has flawless grammar and many were in regular lanes with me.

The English teachers these days don't teach how to write, and when papers are assigned, they are too lazy to grade them. They'll write trivial notes as advice. Back in the day, we'd have our papers returned within a few days with red markings so we could learn from our mistakes. And lectures on how to write. These days, the teachers either have peer corrections (how can a peer have the experience of an English college graduate?) or have teachers assistants grade the papers. And papers aren't returned for weeks or months, so there is another paper assigned before students can learn what they did wrong on the last paper. Jordan's English teachers are the worst and Jordan administration knows it. Middle school should be a foundation for writing because high school teachers expect their students to already have some knowledge of how to write. I usually respect the teaching profession, but people hired to be an English teachers should accept that they will have to spend time correcting papers during off hours.

Really, what is more important than our children learning how to write? None of these are as important: analyzing books, geometry, knowledge of history, physics, chemistry, biology. PAUSD should prioritize writing skills. But they have to find teachers who can teach it. My apologies to those few who do teach properly.

Twitter and texting is also ruining the English language but that's out of the school's control.

Posted by resident
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I completely agree with the comment above. I too went through this school district and clearly remember the emphasis on grammar and writing. My kids at Paly have very strong grades and yet I'm surprised that their writing skills are not stronger. My junior regularly comments that she is not a good writer, and yet she frequently is assigned good grades in English. Times change and I certainly wasn't learning computer skills etc. in the 80s. However, surely the importance of being an effective writer and communicator should not lose their importance.

Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm

The emphasis in English classes both at Jordan and Paly was analyzing literature, not on the actual writing. Both my kids learned more from writing history papers than in the English classes. But the do know lots about The Great Gatsby! They also had the experience at Paly of it literally taking two months to get an essay returned, having turned in two more without the benefit of input... and the fun of having the essays graded by a paid reader instead of the teacher.

Posted by Back in the Day
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Just a quick note--back in the day, Paly English teachers had their course-loads capped at 4 classes. Were there 35 kids in your classes? Because there are now...35 x 5 = 175 essays. Even at only 5 minutes an essay, that's 875 minutes, or 14 1/2 hours...or over two weeks worth of prep periods. Also, there is an elective at Paly dedicated to teaching composition and rhetoric--Reading Between the Lines--if your student is interested writing that isn't literary response.

Posted by Teach students to write
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2013 at 8:02 pm

@Back in the day: Boohoo, an hour each day of grading papers? That's too much to ask of our English teachers? An English teacher in highly paid PAUSD should dedicate more time to our students and correct their papers. If they have too many students, PAUSD should hire extra teachers. Students should learn to write all styles instead of having to take Read Between the Lines, which was a new class last year.

Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Since this thread is about how prepared PAUSD student are for college - both my kids (Paly grads) had very little experience writing research papers, which they have had to do in every subject except for math in college - history, science, social science and fine arts. Paly did not prepare them to write research papers, only to write English essays analyzing literature.

@Back in the day - I realize teachers have more classes, but the worst teacher for returning essays was a teacher with 4 periods of 22-25 kids (I know because we had a discussion on class sizes) and it took him 6-8 weeks to return papers for about 100 kids.

Posted by hello, this is the internet
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Fire the PR officer and hire 2 teachers with the saved $160K. You could do so much with that money. You could:

1. hire 2 writing teachers (1 each for Paly and Gunn);
2. hire a number of aides to prevent bullying;
3. staff a wellness center at Gunn with a counselor or two, have yoga classes, teach mindfulness meditation, etc.
4. buy a chromebook for every single freshman in both our high schools
5. buy 5 trillion paper clips and 50 million 3X5 cards

Every one of these things would be way more useful than a PR officer, who by the way seems to be TERRIBLE at PR. Has anyone ever seen so many negative stories about the district? [Portion removed.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2013 at 10:51 pm

I agree with the writing comments above- essays get little or no useful feedback, and grades are posted late;often near the end of the semester. Jordan writing is horrendous - they aren't really even covering how to write a clear, consice sentence. 5 paragraph essays are okay, but even within this format, the Paly teachers don't really do much to cover the basics of writing (read Strunk&White). Higher level concepts like focusing on narrow well developed theses are completely missing. The Freshman English teacher couldnt write the assignments clearly!!My kid spent most of Sophmore
English learning angst and despair in FHAO. It was useless. As a Junior they have finally written one creative
assignment. Research simply isn't taught. One teacher expects research papers in social studies, but nobody has taught even the rudimentary basics of research! It's a chaotic mess of uncoordinated actions, and incompetence. There is no end to end view of writing skills from middle through high school. In such a dysfunctional environment, mediocrity thrives, as there is no way to see who is responsible for what action. Supervisor Tokheim should leave any time- she has provided no guidance or leadership at all.

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2013 at 11:59 pm

When I was at Paly, Advanced Composition was a mandatory class, and there were two lanes: A & B. This class was dedicated to learning to write and learning vocabulary. Such a class would be beneficial for freshman, both for a foundation, and to learn vocabulary for the SAT and general knowledge. These days, every English class has them writing about a book they read. Analyzing books is priority over learning proper writing and different types of writing. And some teachers don't even have their students learn vocabulary words (gasp!). My Paly senior asked, "How did they teach you to write?" and couldn't understand that we were lectured on proper writing in every year of my four years at Paly. We weren't assigned a massive amount of papers to write, but we wrote one-page papers which were returned with a lot of feedback. Simply asking students to write papers and not giving feedback is not teaching writing skills.

Posted by This is what you voted for
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 6:52 am

Do not complain about Palo Alto teachers, each one is exemplary. I know because each one just received a 6% raise for Kevin Skelly. Curiously, the teachers union hasn't complained about his leadership at all. Keep voting for the likes of Camille, Dana, Melissa, and Barbara (seriously, do I really need to mention Heidi?).

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2013 at 7:50 am

One thing obviously missing is teaching the kids how to think about writing: starting with a wide subject, and narrowing this down to one idea; then narrowing further to a few supporting facts. Organizing ideas, understanding when to compare ideas, when to contrast differences, when to identify interesting exceptions.,etc.

They're not really being taught to think about what to write. Analysis is gone...

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2013 at 8:53 am

Two aspects to this discussion. The feedback from students is very interesting and I am pleased that PAUSD has done this and hope they use the information wisely. I particularly agree with the living skills class and have been very upset that this has not been used to teach useful life skills such as taxes, how to get a job, how to rent an apartment, etc. On the other hand, they ask how to do laundry and to me this is part of the Palo Alto bubble life our kids lead, as doing laundry should be something they learn at home as part of their chores.

The other aspect is writing. I do agree that they don't teach writing skills. They also do a poor job of teaching grammar. I also see very little written homework that is critiqued properly from elementary right through high school. Teachers do not always need to assign a full essay to do this, just whenever they assign to answer a few questions or write a short paragraph about something, the expectation should be that the sentences make sense and the grammar and spelling are correct. Most students seem to be unable to write without a computer and grammar and spell check tools.

Posted by Fed up with ignorance
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I think kids should have to pass a grammar, literary devices, and writing test each year in order to go to the next grade level. Teachers shouldn't have to teach the same skills students were supposed to learn in third grade. Maybe then students would take writing seriously and put more effort into it. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Same with reading and writing, you can teach the concepts 'til you're blue in the face, but it doesn't mean students will use them in their work. That and limit math to 20 minutes per night so that students can spend more time reading and writing in all subjects. Problem solved.

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm

@ hello, this is the internet - I was sorry to see that your hilarious notes about the PR lady were removed. Frankly, in the PR lady's defense, I think that this is an impossible job. This is an UN-PRable situation.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Teacher Homework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm

@Back in the day.
I am interested in your perspective since you appear to have a local teacher's insight. Both of my my parents were teachers and very committed to their calling. My memories as a child include my parents working on homework and lesson plans after dinner. It sounds like the expectation today is that prep periods should be supplied for any homework grading and editing. Is that not the case in PAUSD any more?

Posted by Back in the Day
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2013 at 6:12 pm

@Teacher Homework:
Thank you for your question. Contractually, the teacher's work day begins a half hour before school to half an hour after. Any work that a teacher does afterwards is pro-bono/not covered by their salary. So prep periods are given for grading and planning for future lessons, letter of recommendation writing, meetings and other school-related activities. Teachers in PAUSD are supplied with two prep periods, so a full-time teacher will teach 5 sections.
Like your parents, I also spend time after contractual hours working (always looking out for great new ideas and grading!) because the prep periods just don't provide enough time and something is always coming up; students who have common preps will often ask for extra help during that time. Not that I think you (Teacher Homework) are suggesting this, but the "Boohoo" my prior post compels me to state, that I don't mention the extra time spent as a rallying cry for a pity party--I knew what I was getting into and I do believe that teaching (like medicine) distinguishes itself from many other professions by being a calling demanding a willingness to work beyond contract hours. I'm knee deep in grading right now! I mention it so people are informed and maybe more effective when they make suggestions to teachers.

PS: Reading Between the Lines has been offered at Paly for 5 years and at Gunn for even longer;)

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Based on the comments of Back-in-the-day, the cost-to-hire teachers in the PAUSD is between $115/hour and $130/hour. (A cost-to-hire will be more than, and less than, these numbers--but they are in the range.)

This leaves us with the question--are we paying too much for teachers? Obviously there are only so many hours in the day, and exercises that require any significant amount of teacher engagement makes it impossible for any teacher to put in more than the contracted hours at school.

It might be interesting to inquire how much homework teachers are contractually obligated to assign each student? If teachers are not contractually obligated to assign homework, then they must be doing so knowing that they are going to have to correct, and evaluate, this homework on their own part.

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm

@Back in the Day: Reading Between the Lines was stated as a new class in last year's catalog. Perhaps it was offered prior but the name was changed last year? Do you realize how bad you have made other teachers appear by claiming teachers are time clock workers? Usually the goal of teachers is to help and teach children, whether it's on their own time or not. If they've lost the desire to teach, they ought to rethink their career.

Posted by it's still a job
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 12:39 am

Paly Alum,

"Do you realize how bad you have made other teachers appear by claiming teachers are time clock workers? Usually the goal of teachers is to help and teach children, whether it's on their own time or not. "

I guess time clock workers is considered offensive, but lawyers and many professions measure the value of the services rendered to a monetary value, sometimes down to the hour. Passion in any job s rarely calculated in the hourly rate or necessarily expected as long as the job gets done.

I think it's fair to look at how the job is getting done today, compared to how the job was getting done back in the day to make improvements.

Posted by it's not a well paid job
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 8:02 am

Pay teachers the same amount as lawyers per hour and I'm sure they'll account for every hour they work!
"San Francisco ranked sixth, at more than $550 for partners and more than $350 for associates."

Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

I completely agree that Gunn is missing the mark in the over-emphasis put on getting into college instead of ensuring that students are successful both in college and in life. From my child's circle of friends from the class of 2013, two have already dropped out. The lack of an advisory program at Gunn takes away an important time which can be used to provide a perspective on the college experience. Without this support at school many Gunn families rely on private college and tutoring services which serve their own interests in amping up the hype around college admissions. I agree with the poster above that Gunn administration worries about the stress and the hype, but they hamstrung themselves to do anything about it. Advisory may not counterbalance all of the misplaced competitive hype but without it, students rely on the limited experiences of their parents, listen to the hype from the other students or from the college-industrial complex.

Posted by it's not a well paid job
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 9:41 am

"I completely agree that Gunn is missing the mark in the over-emphasis put on getting into college instead of ensuring that students are successful both in college and in life. "

And the top reasons for this at Gunn:
1. I feel anxiety about getting into the colleges that I want to go to
2. I feel tremendous pressure to succeed academically
3. My family expects me to attend a top college
4. I feel anxiety about my workload at school
5. I feel pressured to take a challenging load of Honors and AP courses
6. My classmates and I compete to do well in school

And the top reasons for this at Paly:
1. I feel anxiety about getting into the colleges that I want to go to
2. I feel tremendous pressure to succeed academically
3. I feel anxiety about my workload at school
4. I feel pressure to take a challenging load of Honors and AP courses
5. My family expects me to attend a top college
6. My classmates and I compete to do well in school

They look kinda similar.

Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

@Gunn Parent - I think many Gunn parents are under the impression that Advisory at Paly is a "support" period. For most of the Advisors, they hand out papers, cover the topics they are supposed to very briefly and let the kids go early (at least that was the experience of both of my students). They have a form email they send to parents about kids grades (I know its a form because ours had another students name and class info on it). Gunn now has 9 guidance counselors with one counselor always on call for drop-ins with problems and 3 people devoted to college and career counseling. Paly has 4 guidance counselors (who are terrific) 2 college counselors and 1 career/community service person.

As was pointed out, the Paly and Gunn students have very similar concerns and stresses, with Gunn students feeling slightly more pressure from their parents. Changing Gunn's counseling model will not change ANY of the stresses the kids feel.

Posted by it's still a job
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:50 am

It's not a well paid job,

Are you saying that if teachers were paid better, they would do a better job?

I think many teachers do a great job already. The survey was pointing out that writing is not an area where there seems to be a lot of success. It could be the teachers but what't the coincidence that all English teachers are bad, something else must not be right.

There may be lesser paid teachers doing a better job I'm sure.

What does the stress data you point out have to do with the writing issues?

Posted by Collegiate Tutor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 18, 2013 at 11:26 am

I am a collegiate English tutor working with Stanfordand other local university students, and I think that there needs to be a little bit of perspective added to the writing issue.

The first week of basic English, you are essentially told to throw out the five paragraph essay that you mastered in high school. This is not just an issue for PAUSD graduates, but everyone who is starting collegiate English--from private schools, from inner city schools, everywhere. This is hardly a PAUSD issue as much as it is a flaw in the system. Analysis is not taught anywhere until college, as your opinion and perspective on literature or current events (the "I") is not considered worthwhile until you are in college. In high schools everywhere, you are taught to never use a personal pronoun in an essay; but in college English, that is perfectly acceptable.

Personally, I think we go about teaching English wrong starting from seventh grade when we teach the Five Paragraph Essay, but do not be harsh to judge PAUSD for what is actually an issue everywhere.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 11:36 am

> Analysis is not taught anywhere until college, as your opinion
> and perspective on literature or current events (the "I")
> is not considered worthwhile until you are in college.

You won't find the pronoun "I" in any professional writing--unless it's an opinion piece.

As to analysis not being taught until college--that's probably true. There is only so much that can be expected in high school, compared to what is expected from undergraduate school, gradudate school, and the rest of our lives.

One poster complained about students not being taught how to write research papers before college. There might be some value in such a comment, but it's very doubtful that anyone can teach another how to write a research paper--particularly since these sorts of efforts involve analysis.

As to college basic English, is there any evidence that colleges have internally synchronized their needs, so that students exiting these English classes are prepared to write acceptably in all of the other departments?

Given the wide scope of human communications, we need to remember that music is different from prose, and prose is different from poetry, and poetry is different from mathematics. All of these subject areas need to be treated differently, for the most part.

There is no doubt that high schools could do a better job requiring students to do more writing, but there is only so much time in everyone's day.

Posted by Reese Ponce Ibble
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 11:54 am

My son recently graduated from UC Davis, and felt over-prepared for college. He said he pretty much kicked back for four years after Paly. This surprised him at first, since he had always heard that college was just a big high school. He actually spent less time on homework at Davis than at Paly.

However, he felt that he had a better education than most of his classmates at Davis, who had less stress and less homework during their high school years. He also had an easier time adjusting to college life than they did, since they were not prepared for the amount of reading and writing they would have to do.

Posted by alissa
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I, too , remember when my papers were graded in a very timely manner and handed back with corrections and suggestions for improvement in red. I don't remember any teacher feeling that this work was "too" much. And I don't remember them having prep periods in which to correct papers or prepare for the next day. Teaching has changed and society has changed. What shouldn't change is that the students get timely feedback and instruction. Writing papers and sending them out there without the hope of feedback or correction in a timely manner is virtually useless. So, figure out a way to teach writing within the confines of the "new" teaching system that works. Our children still need to learn how to write effectively.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 18, 2013 at 12:49 pm

When I hear that writing may not be adequately taught in the PAUSD system, I think to myself that this may be a subject that needs to be supplemented outside of school.

I am not super gung-ho on my child having to get the best grades, dominate his peers, or be accepted into the best colleges; but, I do try to make sure that he has the opportunity to learn good, strong, fundamental skills before leaving home to make his way in the world. Writing is clearly one of those skills.

Additionally, I don't expect the public school system to be perfect or to fulfill our every need. However, it's a real "bummer" for everyone in our family when we feel we need to address a perceived inadequacy in the public school system outside of school. It usually costs lots of money and takes time from everyone in our family. And, in order to grow up as a well-balanced kid, my son really needs some free time outside of a classroom and away from homework. He loses some of that with each academic intervention.

Posted by Gunn Alum (and future teacher)
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Although interesting that students seem very aware of their lost time in high school for the stress put on college, it is important to note that half of students who received the survey responded to it. Likely those who responded were the more responsible or academically inclined who felt obligated and responsible for filling out the survey. Every student who didn't take high school seriously or didn't attend college was probably way less likely to fill out the survey. Although the students are probably correct that it's the students who create the pressure more so than the classwork, I still strongly suspect that the students taking this survey were exactly those kids.
The other challenging thing for me in this article is that there is not a whiff of how to solve the problem. Ok. We have identified some issues that many students had. Too much focus on college, feeling like they didn't have time to work on themselves as a person, too much academic stress, but in every stinking article the palo alto weekly has put out about the issue, I have never seen a legitimate solution proposed. They just tell teachers to lay off on grade stress, but that won't even scrape the surface. Parents and students need to be addressed at the root of the problem, particularly parents. I weep for every student who was told by their parent that if they did not get a 5 on the AP test they would have to pay for the test themselves. The asinine attitude of the average palo alto nose in the air parent makes me rip my hair out. If my child doesn't go to Standford how can I ever show my face again at the wheatgrass juicers association? How will my Yoga-Pilates fusion class react to my child's failure? But for every student that has a parent like that, they have 10 friends they impose the same morals upon. A student who hears at home that they need to study in their free time and get all As will suggest mostly to their friends that they should all study and try to get all As and will inadvertently participate in a term I have invented called "B shaming". Every time in college I have heard the phrase "You got a B on that test? Congratulations!" I wonder how Gunn would've been different if that could've been the attitude. Parents may think that them being strict on their student just drives their student to achieve more, but it has a backlash effect on every student that their child comes in contact with and the domino effect continues until we have what has been shown in these results: students are displeased with their high school experience because they felt it was too academically or college focused.

We can argue for years on whether it's caused by the school system, parents, students, curriculum, or teachers but obviously there is not a hard fast answer. Until the problem is attacked on all fronts at the same time, we're going to be cycling through the same issues for a long time to come.

Posted by it's still a job
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Gunn Alum (and future teacher),

Maybe Common core will help change the dynamic.

In the name of making HS College Prep, it seems everyone is supposed to be Harvard bound in terms of homework, testing, and the pressure to be successful.

Does anyone know what COmmon Core English is middle to High School?

Paly Alum,

I think Jordan has some outstanding English teachers except in 6th grade when teachers teach more than one subject.

The problem with Middle School is that in all subjects they are preparing kids "for High School," and it makes all subjects terrifying and with outlandish amounts of homework.

Posted by bill g
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Does any graduate know how to parse a sentence? If they did, writing skills would be improved tremendously.

PS Do any of them know what parse a sentence means? Does any English teacher these days?

Posted by Midtown mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Although I have lots of comments, mostly critical of Paly and Gunn academics, I will mention only a few: 1) I'd like to see the questionnaire. Any links? I know that it appears to have a large percentage of replies, but really, think about how many grads we have each year.We4 need a larger sample.
2)our children seem ill-prepared when writing "term papers" as most college classes require.3) Even when parents pull back as they see their children struggling for "acceptable" grades, most parents try to settle down and support their children.It is the student who has internalized the stress by that time.
How have we allowed ourselves to forget that high school should also be fun and a time to develop various interests? We are failing most of our kids.

Posted by Former teacher
a resident of Portola Valley
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Parents, ask yourselves this: What does success look like when your HS child is 25, 35 , 45, or 55? Too many Palo Alto parents, as Gunn alum and future teacher suggests, view parenting as an Olympic sport with a figurative gold medal as acceptance to Stanford, Cal or an Ivy. And too many kids in those families get on an achieve-at-all-costs treadmill, mortgage their adolescents for short-term "success," and end up doing the job of figuring out who they are (the key developmental imperative during teen years) way later in life, and often on a couch at $150-200 an hour as they try to untangle how they ended up "successful" and miserable.

So the solution is to not buy in to the achieve-at-all-cost mentality, find solace in the mantra "my kid will be okay if I support him/her on what matters most: being a kind, compassionate human who works hard," and trust that there are 2600 colleges in the country, many of which are great fits for my kid if college is, in fact, the best option for him/her, and something catastrophic will NOT happen if he/she doesn't get a golden ticket to a ranked university. Look around and see that there are lots of paths to living a good life. And screw what your neighbors think, because our kid's well being is more important than community status.

Posted by Paly '12
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm

It was pretty easy to guess who wrote what, given that I know:

(1) where my friends go to school (2) where they went to school (3) how quickly they would respond to an email solicitation like that.

So the results were cool, but only because whoever is in charge of privacy didn't quite think it through :)

Posted by EPA
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm

The real problem in Palo Alto is the parents. They instill the mentality that their kid must go to a "good" college, get "good" grades and be "successful"(make a lot of money).

1. There's no such thing as a "bad" college. Every kid will get a good education no matter their plan after high school. Parents need to focus on helping their child go to a college that is a good fit, not necessarily a high tier college.

2. There's absolutely nothing wrong with B's and C's.

3. People need to redefine their definition of successful. Should be more about being happy instead of making money.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Enough with the parent-shaming. I don't go to pilates or yoga, I don't give a rats-ass what other people think of my kid, and I'm not interested in them getting straight-A's / into Stanford / Cal / whatever - where they just might be miserable.

I just want them to be taught how to write. And I don't expect a Pulitzer either.

BUT if a 10th grade history teacher expects a 10 page research paper, and NO prior teacher tells the kid how to do this, then by the standards OF OUR OWN SCHOOL, someone has dropped the ball.

And it's not the parents and not the students.

Do I honestly have to go pay a tutor to teach my kid how to do work that is expected of our own school system?

Really? That is messed up.

So let's drop the parent shaming. I'm not the problem, and where possible I sweep up the mess.

If the SCHOOL expects a certain skill set, the SCHOOL should teach to that goal. Everyone in the school is responsible to at least get that much right.

Do you guys ever talk to each other? Writing here needs work. Sack-up and own it. Teach writing; at least to a level your own classes demand.

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

On the English curriculum: if you're feeling unsatisfied with the English department (I agree there's quite a spread of teaching skills there, although it's also related to how interesting the books are and how outgoing other students in the class are so it's not fair to judge) remember that it's possible to learn to write in departments other than English. I would recommend APUSH, beginning journalism, or any publication (I'm serious - even with the errors you see occasionally, there is a lot to be learned through submitting drafts 2-3 times). Beginning journalism is fabulous about teaching you about grammar, even those annoying rules like when to put numbers in (and yes, I'm aware I disobeyed the rules earlier).
As for the 10-page research paper, my class managed to skip out of doing it. I honestly don't approve of the assignment, but I'm sure that there's some state standard that only PAUSD abides by (Shakespeare monologues anyone?) which says kids have to know how to write research papers.

Posted by Paly student
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm

As a student (senior at paly) currently going to through the system, these issues are most relevant to my life. Though parents and instructors know and care a huge deal about the education their children receive at PAUSD high schools, I think many of you are missing the core of high schoolers' concerns.

I feel very prepared for college: I am confident in my math skills, in my writing, in my ability to analyze reading assignments. The problem at Paly (less so at Gunn, where math and science classes are a bit easier), is not that we are not learning enough skills, it is that our immense efforts are not translated onto our transcripts, which puts a huge amount of stress on students when applying to colleges. Students are prevented from taking higher laned classes because they know that taking them guarantees a much lower GPA, and they also know that teachers in the higher lanes tend to do much less teaching. For example, I am very interested in physics and would have loved to take AP Physics C, but I was not willing to take the huge risk of enrolling for a class with 10 hours of weekly homework and a 30% dropout rate.

The problem, essentially, is that that there are many many bright kids in PAUSD schools, and teachers respond not by teaching us more material, but increasing difficulty of assignments and tests. Smart and capable students bust their ass to get a B in an AP class.... that thy could have easily gotten an A in at a different school. Colleges do not seem to know about PAUSD's harsh grading, probably because of the fact that so many kids are still able to pull of good grades, often through perfecting the art of busywork or resorting to cheating. Then they are accepted to schools where they are over-prepared compared to everyone else...

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:14 am

Just finished reading threads here about affordable housing, car camping and the homeless. No wonder parents are concerned about their children's education. But hard for me to tell whether the fundamentals have changed in the 50 years since I muddled through PAUSD. Could have worked harder but found myself well-prepared for college anyway, and thankful of it.

@Gunn Alum, entertaining post about keeping-up-appearances parental stereotypes. We had a few of them in my day, but most parents of my peers were just big kids themselves, in their late 30s, early 40s, with their own problems. And stress flows downhill, so kids feel it and spread it around as you've observed.

@Midtown mom, a web-link is given way up there in the second comment. Not the questionnaire itself, but the detailed results so you can reverse-engineer the questions. I killed two hours reading through. See pages 30-50 and 50-71 for the hundreds of free-form student responses to "What advice would you give to a high school student at your alma mater to help them best prepare for college?" and "What advice would you give to your high school to help them best prepare students for college?" As Gunn Alum noted, the responses are from a self-selected sample and may not be representative of the entire student body.

I've been traveling to my college reunions annually (small private college), and the undergrads are getting smarter and sharper every year. Scary that they look at us old alums as respected successful role models, and ask for serious advice on career choice or graduate school or just an approach to life. Yikes! What encouragements do you say into those bright young eyes?

Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

In response to two posters above, I am always curious when parents of Paly students and residents of Crescent Park proclaim that Gunn does not need the same Advisory program as Paly. Really? Your students have this service which is continuously improving, but you are sure that residents of South Palo Alto can't benefit from additional support at school? Perhaps you own a tutoring center or college counseling service?

At Gunn, students have to wait in lines to meet with a counselor or squeeze in an appointment taking them out of class or away from after school activities. If you are lucky, you will have the same counselor for more than one year. My child had two different counselors and met with the counselor no more than twice per year.

Yes. Gunn Parents put pressure on their children who, in turn, pressure others. Teachers and counselors can be a counter weight. Teachers and counselors have seen hundreds of students pass through their classes and have an experience and perspective to share. The Gunn administration does try to dial back the pressure, but they would be better served by a structure that fosters relationships between teachers and students in addition to counselors and dedicated college advisors.

Posted by it's not a well paid job
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 8:38 am

Yeah, Advisory is great and at Paly, out of 1389 responses, only 34% of students would agree with you. It's also a great counter balance to parents, after all most Paly students would NOT recommend going to TA with a personal problem.

These are things you should be aware of when being promised change. You should do your own research rather than drinking the kool-aid.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:00 am

I have found that many teachers are expecting our students by 10th grade to be able to take lecture notes. Curiously, many have not done well on tests even with "open Notes" from those lectures. It turns out that many teachers assume that the students have been taught how to do take lecture notes. ( yes, it has been taught how to take notes from textbooks usually). This is a terrible assumption on the part of many teachers.
Would it be so difficult or take up valuable time to teach (or review) note taking from lectures for class at the beginning of the class? This of course is also an extremely important skill to have in college.

Posted by Bubble Police
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:10 am

The general tenor of comments says this: teachers are paid too much and aren't doing enough to teach students. This cry concerns me because as a culture here on the Peninsula, we're saying education matters but we don't want to pay for it or we're only going to pay for it, if you work day and night. There is something wrong with this assumption, very wrong. I value education and a educated society. I want my children to have the best education and teachers and I am willing to pay what it takes to get it, even if that means, for example, high taxes, more expensive home in a good school district, or traveling long distances for it. Ok, bubble people, if you value education like I think you and is evidenced by all the chatter here, you can't speak out of both sides. Stop beating up teachers which in turns makes the school districts and boards beat up on them. We're creating this vicious cycle of blame. Parents play an important role in their children's education. We, parents, are part of the partnership to education our children. You want your bubble kids to be self-sufficient and be able to cook, clean and pay their taxes. Well, then teach them how to do those things. Don't rely on the schools to do everything to foster learning of all sorts. Our schools were not built to be substitute parents, not event co-parents.

Posted by concerned
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:22 am

Fear not parents and students: college admissions know high schools very well, particularly schools like GUNN and PALY. They know their academic rigor, the academic pressure and the caliber of students that come out of both of these knows. So let's get away from: colleges just don't know; they do. I've been in admissions for a long time; we do our homework on schools, talking with counselors, visiting schools and other investigative processes. One thing you have to keep in mind about college admissions--it is a numbers game in two senses. One there are more students applying for college in the US than ever in our history. More applicants breeds more competition. There are more students taking the challenging courses than ever before in education history, i.e. AP, honors etc. More applicants in challenging courses breeds more competition. The rub comes from so many students doing these same things and not being distinguishable from their peers. Hence, the schools and parents crazy push to make students distinct by encouraging their (over)involvement in sports, clubs, volunteering etc. We're all caught up in this competitive cycle with really no way out, except to think carefully about what college is right for you (the student) and NOT what anyone else (society, parents, peers) dictates should be the college for you. I know not an easy road to take for students or parents.

Posted by Kindel Launer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm

@it's not a well paid job - please refrain from using the phrase "drinking the kool-aid." As we come to another anniversary of the tragedy at Jonestown, it is critically important to remember that there are family members within our community whose loved ones perished there. My children lost an aunt there and my brother-in-law lay wounded on the airstrip for well over 36 hours. For my children and my parent in-laws, please refrain. For too many families, Jonestown and kool-aid must never be dismissed as a quotation-laden-common-vulgarity.
Kindel Launer
Teacher, Facing History and Ourselves
PALY English

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 1:18 am

Paly Alum is a registered user.

@Kindel Todd Launer: Agree with your posting that the phrase is disrespectful. But wondering why you have capitalized the name, PALY. Paly is a nickname, not an acronym and you are an English teacher?

Posted by English Professor
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 20, 2013 at 5:53 am

Paly English teacher might consider less use of the passive voice as well.

Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 6:59 am

No more wondering why kids in Palo Alto are mean to each other, sometimes resulting in bullying. Hope the above two posters don't model this for their children.

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:21 am

I don't know enough about Gunn's culture to say if they'd like advisory or not, but here's my opinion of it at Paly. Freshman year advisory is kind of a joke: it's hosted with only 1/2 the class there (A-K/L-M) and all I remember doing is receiving maps of school and filling out packets on balancing my HW time with being social and whatnot. I was a freshman - no more than 1-ish hours of work per day, and I didn't really need any of that.
I honestly don't remember sophomore year advisory. I bet we filled out one of those "4-year track" sheets which allow you to manage your schedule and see if you have all the required classes to graduate and be UC-accredited, but I honestly don't remember. And besides, I had most of my classes figured out by freshman year anyway.
Junior year advisory was helpful towards the end of the year, when we were introduced to short forms (which I had never heard of before this point) and were reminded to request teachers to write recs for us. I don't remember the first semester of it, but the second semester was all about college applications which was helpful.
Also to note about advisory: the kids who have had siblings go to the school have an immediate advantage because they know who to ask for as adviser (ie teachers that write well and are casual and approachable). And I never went to my TA and asked "where should I apply to college?" like a lot of people do to the college counselors.
As for meeting with a counselor twice, was she unable to get more visits or was that all she needed? I didn't discuss the college-app process before senior year, and I decided where I was applying entirely on my own. I've only been using the counselors to answer common-app questions and edit my essays.
In conclusion: Advisory isn't the be-all end-all of high school life. If Gunn wants it, sure, they can have it. If they don't, don't force it on them. I don't know which side Gunn students are on (I haven't seen a Gunn student on campaigning for advisory) but they should get their way.

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

Paly Alum is a registered user.

@Parent: Seriously? There is hardly bullying at Paly and I have two there now and one that graduated. Middle schools are where people bully and have questionable social skills. By the time they reach Paly, most of them mature. Plus, my posting is not bullying; it's called constructive criticism. No wonder people here complain of "bullying" - almost everything besides "Have a nice day" is considered bullying.

Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm

With regard to "its not a well paid job" I completely agree the posters above that any reference to "drinking the kool-aid" is disrespectful and inappropriate.

In addition it is flat out wrong. The Gunn Advisory Committee, comprised of teachers, parents and students, conducted a year-long study at the request of the PAUSD Board. One of the recommendations was improving Titan 101 and extending the program to all four years. This would, in effect, bring Advisory to Gunn. Unfortunately this recommendation has not been implemented and the Board has not followed up. The Board in not in compliance with its own policy to provide comparable guidance services across the two campuses.

Advisory is an important program which could provide Gunn students with support. I appreciate that individual student's experiences with Advisory are mixed, but survey data on Counseling consistently show higher satisfaction rates with the Paly counseling program than the Gunn counseling program.

Posted by t's not a well paid job
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Unfortunately, most of the students at Paly don't agree with you. Not only that, but the main causes are the same at both schools regardless of whether advisory exists. So, rather than try and understand why Paly gets better overall results or, better still, look to a system that addresses the biggest issues at both schools, you continue to drink the kool-aid. It is rather unfortunate.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm

My child, a Paly senior, agrees with C. He really does not spend that much time on homework although in high math and science lanes (without any tutors).

And I know for a fact that homework load WAS reduced at Paly. In one math class, for instance, homework was made optional and no longer graded.

Some parents seem to want it all though, as in no homework, high lanes and all As for all. Sorry, it just does not work that way.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Oh, but advisory at Paly is great. What does make a big difference is how much your child likes his/her teacher advisor. My child likes his TA and his TA knows him well. It is a good system.

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