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Gunn student, former teacher call for more balanced academic culture

Original post made on Nov 19, 2014

A Gunn High School student and former teacher brought to the school board Tuesday night a rallying cry to create a healthier, more balanced life for Gunn's 2,008 students and teachers.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 9:24 AM

Comments (142)

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 9:50 am

Thank you Martha and Marc

Wishing you all the luck and support you can get. If you have a website or a Facebook page, please can you provide links so that more of us can help you.

Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 19, 2014 at 10:35 am

One other big change I would like to see is to limit the number of colleges to which the high school will send transcripts. There are students applying to 50 schools! It isn't that you get into one good place. You have to say you got into ALL the ivies and Stanford and Berkeley and..... I think 5 is generally plenty -- a stretch or two, a couple that are a best fit, and one 'safe school.' Writing all those essays and paying all that money, and making the teachers and counselors write all those letters is too much wasted time, stress and money. I LOVE the 'rejection board' at Paly. Kids need to know that everyone else isn't perfect. My son dropped out of Gunn because of the stress issue about 20 years ago! He started over as a freshman (again) at another private school, did well, got into a UC, went to law school, and now has a wife, 3 beautiful children and a good career. But, it was a rocky few years. Stop the pushy madness!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

You can't do that. The grades belong to the student, not the school. Talk about a restriction on personal freedom...

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:11 am

@Paly Parent

Here's the website link to "Save the 2008":

Web Link

Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:41 am

If the number of grade reports is reduced, stress will shoot up when students suddenly find out they are failing a class and cannot graduate at the end of the semester!

This whole proposal has been thought out for relatively successful students who are tragically compulsive. Think about the students who do not keep track of their grades, ie, ADD, LD, 504 students. What will happen to them?

Same with # of colleges limited - how will they get a good fit with that limitation?

Good intentions but students who are under the most stress will suffer even more.

Posted by Wonderiing?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:46 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

We really need to get more creative about handles.

I have been posting as "Wondering" on all related threads, and I am not "Wondering?" who posted above.

Going forward I will change my handle I guess so to not confuse with all the other Wonderings.

I support the teacher and student who have brought forward these ideas and that they cared to speak up at the Board meeting. They may not be perfect solutions, but they open up the conversation about important things like the role of cell phones and the devices that hyper fuel everything in the life of a young person, and can and do interfere 24/7.

Posted by wondering if Wondering has a soul
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:56 am

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I think this is also a Paly issue. The schools have slightly different demographics, attitudes and personalities, but the pressures are the same. There have been plenty of pressures on the students in Paly and the students know each other from sports, music, middle school, etc.

I would like to see this a joint push for both schools.

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I support the no phones during school policy. As a teacher, I know the only way to enforce no phone use in class is to physically wrest the phone from a student's grasp. We are dealing with smartphone addiction among our teens. However, it may be difficult to get parent buy-in for this because they are themselves are hooked on the cell phones and are models for their children of this anti-social behavior. You'd need to make a pact that parents would support the intent of the rule by banning cell phone use at home during meals and family quality time; essentially replacing screen time with family communication time. The issue Martha's idea addresses, to force students to interact with one another instead of having their heads bowed over a screen is a societal problem at large. But we have to start somewhere to take back our ability to socialize and communicate in real time.

Posted by On the subject of AP's
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Having 3 kids go through 2 different high schools, I'd like to say that AP classes, per se, are not the problem. Some of their most time-consuming classes have been in non-honors, non-AP electives. In AP classes, there is a set, defined, national curriculum. If you have a weak teacher in an AP class, you have the tools to self-teach or get a tutor (because it is a nation-wide curriculum with AP study guides). If you have group projects in an AP class, you are likely to be paired with someone who also cares about their grade and who is able and willing to do their "share" of the project. If you have a weak teacher in a basic level class, it can be difficult to know what/how to self-study, plus basic level classes often have many more time-consuming projects than the AP classes can fit in(including group projects where teachers group those with good grades to work with those without, causing extra work for the one who is able to do the work and who cares most about the grade.)
I completely support the ideas discussed in the article, especially the part about keeping track of time spent on assignments(in all levels of classes). This is important feedback for the teacher, for the administration, and for students as they are planning their course loads.

Posted by NeedTimelyGrades
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Twelve progress reports down to 4 is not going to help. My kid is disorganized, and the gradebook is something we rely upon to know if they are on track or missing a bunch of homework.

Teachers should have a 3-day deadline to post grades.

It becomes a high pressure anxiety inducing panic at the end of every semester when teachers post grades a month late, and you find that the 'A' from early in the semester is actually a 'D'

Frequent, small updates leads to less surprises, more calm at home.

Posted by Opal'z
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Opal'z is a registered user.

I have also heard more than enough reports of teachers badgering students for an answer. I don't know what frustration has led teachers to that, but it is not OK in any workplace situation and it should not be right that an adult feels they have the right to do that to teens. That can really build up on somebody's confidence and self esteem.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm


"It becomes a high pressure anxiety inducing panic at the end of every semester when teachers post grades a month late, and you find that the 'A' from early in the semester is actually a 'D'"

I agree with the terms ANXIETY AND PANIC at the end of quarters and semesters because of teachers failing to post grades.

Somebody needs to take a SERIOUS look at timing of grades.

Teachers should not be allowed to assign anything new unless they can grade AND post to a report card at least one week before the report card is sent out.

Correcting this should be so easy - SHUT down the ability to post grades one week before a report card is out. Any grades posted later should not count unless they HELP the student.

It's not about the timing of "the grades", it's about the timing of the communication between a teacher and students.It's about being respectful of that expectation that students should have a right to.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm

On reflection, I think that insisting all phones were turned to "airplane mode" or flight mode, would make more sense than switching off and probably more students would be willing to do this. This airplane or class mode would just turn off the communication end of the phones, but keep the ability to use camera/video, reminders, schedule, calendar, timer, alarms, calculator and a myriad other uses and apps which make them a useful tool for teachers and students alike.

One thing that has been vital is the ability for a student to video an abusive teacher, or one who has a strong accent, as well as the option to video a teacher working through a difficult math concept or taking a picture of notes on the board. If a teacher knows that their teaching is being videod for further studies, or their loss of control in the classroom could be videod, it helps them too.

Posted by A Gunn Mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Before my kids went to Gunn, I was in a tour supported by PiE to visit Gunn. The person guided us was boasting that because of Smart board inside classroom, a student can see at home what the teachers show in the classroom. We later found in reality, many teachers in the science department (advanced biology lane) refused to post the slides shown in the classroom, seemed to hide the powerpoint files from the students, and didn't want students to have enough chance to look at the files, plus in the classroom, the slides was shown in a very fast pace, hard to copy down the details. Also, the homework that kids spent a long time to work on has no answers from the teacher so they cannot know whether they answered the questions right. These all add up to students' pressure.

Posted by NeedTimelyGrades
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Clarification on my post above: I feel that grades should be posted within 3 days after homework is turned in.

(I realized after posting that some might have interpreted my 3-day deadline differently)

Maybe allow a week for large projects and papers.

A coworkers son goes to Alviso and they update the grade book at the end of every day! When his son is struggling, they can arrange help right away. Normally they tell him to go work it out with his teacher.

What a godsend!!!

With the right information, the students have a chance at success.

Posted by Stop the Insanity
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Twelve report cards are the most manic thing I have ever heard of! No one should have more than six even in the worst-case scenario. Truthfully, four should be plenty, with a brief progress report in between.

Except for China, India, Japan, and the U.S., most of the world has limited total homework per night to 30-60 minutes ( although the school days outside the U.S. are longer and have much less vacation time). Teens need to decompress and to have outside iinterest and activities to be well-rounded and clear-minded.

Some of the parents in PAUSD are as bad as some of the teachers and administrators!

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm

In reality, there are only a handful of teachers that really create a lot of stress in students. I have had two kids go through Paly and I could identify 3 to 4 teachers who pile on and pile on until the breaking point, and yes, a couple were AP teachers and everyone knows who they are. The work load for APUSH at Paly exceeds by a long shot the work load of any APUSH class out there at surrounding schools, including all the top private schools. Not only is it a heavy workload during the school year, but kids are assigned at least 6 books, some lengthy, to read the summer prior to taking the class. It is overkill and kids and parents have complained about it for years. It is an extremely popular class and the teacher is beloved and he is a really good teacher -- one of the best. But the work load is totally unnecessary and the grading is much more rigorous than even the AP test. (Many more kids get 5 on the AP test than get an A in the class). Some might say don't have your kid take the class, but why should the kids not be able to take a class at the high level when that's it's a topic they love? Why can't the teacher realize that the work load he demands goes well beyond what teachers teaching the same class at other top schools are requiring of their students? Why doesn't the principal and the school district sit him down and tell him this is too much. I know a kid who locked himself in his bedroom for 2 days after he missed getting an A- in that class by four points. That's stress -- for the kid and his parents. I hate to single this class out, there are other teachers, but not that many, that are creating a significant amount of stress that could be easily alleviated if they would adjust their teaching style/grading.

Posted by A bit of common sense please
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 19, 2014 at 10:25 pm

People should realize that missing an A- in a class by four points (or more) will make absolutely no difference on a student's life in the long run. None, even if that prevents him/her from going to Harvard.

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2014 at 10:33 pm

* To a bit of common sense please:

Just to clarify my earlier point...the Paly kid was upset he didn't get the A-. The parents didn't care except for the fact that their kid had locked himself is his room for 2 days and was clearly very down about not getting the grade he was hoping for and worked so hard for. You can't tell kids how to feel when they work themselves to the bone and feel the pressures of getting into colleges. The parents were worried sick about how down their son felt.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm

A bit of common sense,

Life in the long run? That's not how adolescents think!!!

It's all black and white, yes or no, in or out, and most of the time they react 100% NOT objectively.

Hasn't anyone seen how kids take some of those grades to conclude - my teacher likes me or my teacher hates me.

Missing an A- by four points? That sucks!!!!! In any class, but especially if you were just hazed with a ton of work, summer reading, and the macho attitudes that surround many of these classes.

Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2014 at 11:36 pm

I have a child who graduated and one at Paly. The new superintendent along with new School Board members intend on addressing school stress. One plan is to have students evaluate teachers to keep teacher consistency in homework loads. This is excellent because we have found some extremes within the same subject in regular lanes where one class is overwhelmed and another class of the same class title is experiencing no stress. Another is to evaluate Gunn's daily bell schedule. Gunn has the same classes 4 days per week while Paly has the same classes 3 days per week. While Gunn's earliest release time is 2:30, Paly releases as early as 1:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Paly Advisory class is a waste of time and not planned well, as usually freshman have it each week (when they could use the early release) and seniors rarely have it (when they should have it because of college applications and deadlines). Note that advice is slanted towards UCs so those looking for out-of-state schools will have to find info on their own.

It would be nice if an SAT prep could be available for sophomores during Advisory period (since they rarely have Advisory), if anything, to at least study vocabulary since not all English teachers require students to learn SAT vocabulary (appalling). Maybe PiE could hire a person to teach SAT prep. After all, it helps the school's reputation if SAT scores are high.

One thing I highly recommend to incoming seniors: Start your personal essays during the summer and at least have a good rough draft when school begins because first semester senior year grades are still requested by colleges in evaluating applications. Some seniors are studying to take the SATs one last time in October. UC applications are due November 30. Some colleges (not UCs) have 1-6 extra essay questions on their applications! Having the personal essay completed prior to school will offload stress. The essay questions can be found on the college websites. The personal essay questions were just changed last year so I think they are the same for the next 6 years.

I highly disagree about limiting applications. These days, it's so competitive that students should apply to at least 10 (UCs and CalStates counting as one each). So students should apply to at least 8 colleges other than UCs and CalStates (if financially possible to attend other colleges). If applying to Ivies/elites, send out even more apps. Applications are not too stressful now with the Common App, which saves all the student's data so there is no re-entering necessary. And the UC system application has entering data once, then checking the boxes of the campuses to which one is applying.

And don't forget to check sleep deprivation. Students are not sleeping enough - they are supposed to get 9-10 hours per night - this is very difficult (impossible for AP students), but if your child is consistently sleeping only 4-6 hours, something needs to change. Adults are supposed to sleep 7-8 hours but teenagers need more.

I agree, telling a child not to feel bad about a lesser grade is of no help. Our students have so much pressure to excel because colleges expect so much these days - not only high grades, rigor, and high SAT/ACT scores, but extracurriculars too. Most college students report getting more sleep in college than in high school because of less stress. I remember back in the 80s, viewing UC requirements when a low GPA could be offset by a high SAT score or a high GPA could offset a low SAT score. What a joke compared to what the colleges want now. Ivy Leagues were also easier admittance back then.

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

New York City has banned cell phones in public school for years. The ban is likely to be ended any time soon. It is a complicated issue:
Schools that let students use cellphones face many challenges. Many parents are concerned about a rise in cyberbullying. Policing the use of cellphones can become another pesky task for teachers. And schools fear that students will use their phones to cheat, as was the case in a scandal at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan two years ago.But trying to teach while students are distracted by their cell phones must be extremely frustrating and emotionally draining for our educators.
Some education experts say schools have a responsibility to help students learn self-control over devices that will be integral to the rest of their lives.

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

AP Courses: Wake up parents! What is an AP? A college course that can give credit to a student once he get in a 4-year college. Why do we need to have our high-school students study a college course at 16 & 17 years-old when we perfectly know their brains are not adequately formed to do so? High School in NOT for APs.
Can someone explain to me the necessity of racing to learn?
Why can't parents trust the college admissions officers when they say:
"Faculty at a number of universities have expressed doubts about the value of a passing AP score. Highly capable students who receive scores of 3 or 4, but not the perfect 5, are being given college credit at fewer universities. Academic departments also criticise the increasing proportion of students who take and pass AP courses but are not ready for college-level work"

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm

@Palo Alto parent

The problem with many of the AP courses is that they are not taught like a college course. Some of the teachers who teach them continue to give all the busy work that they would give in a high school course and combine that with all the challenging work of a college course. The kids have to do detailed and time-consuming charts and posters (with paint and glue and markers) and things that would be typical in a high school course, but rarely seen in college, and also require a college-level analysis of college-level work. The courses should be either a college-level course or a high-school level course, not both. Many, many kids who have graduated from Gunn and Paly come back and tell their teachers that college is SO MUCH EASIER than high school was and these include kids who go to the very top colleges. That feed back alone should make both Gunn and Paly reconsider the pressures they are putting on kids.

Posted by Fingers crossed
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 20, 2014 at 1:28 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Can we look at all the reasons students take AP's?

Not all the reasons are bad.

1. It means that you are challenging yourself beyond a particular standard (whether you disagree with the standard or not). This is a good thing.

2. It means you worked your way up to a level of accomplishment where you feel confident enough to undertake that extra challenge. This should be a source of pride and motivation.

3. With schools like the UC's it helps your GPA. Not a bad idea to also get credit for taking a challenge.

4. Colleges give you credit for AP's in varied ways a) actual college credit, b) some judge you by the AP's you have taken - they could be relevant classes to the major you are choosing if you are declaring a major, c) it is a measure of academic ability for particular subjects d) it can show you have passion for a particular subject e) it's one more way to "show" who you are or what you can do.

This "for college" category is definitely a dicy one - it can breed fear and stupidity about everything that is out of one's control anyway.

I disagree that AP's are not developmentally appropriate for Juniors or Seniors, in the right proportion. And students should not be judged for wanting to challenge themselves OR for wanting to improve their GPA's.

What's BAD about AP's:

Too many, and especially when they are only to game the college app process. Even colleges see through that.

AP's are not immune to being poorly calibrated or disorganized and harder than necessary. The alignment thing -which is as much of a problem for regular lane classes. A great AP class can be better than a hellish regular lane class.

What is too many AP's?

Isn't that what academic counseling is supposed to be about? Why are all these decisions only up to students and parents. Every year, a kids should have access to a PAUSD academic advisor to ADVISE them. Advisors know the teachers, they know the departments, they know the homework loads, they know the crazy combinations that can end up in distress (or they should), and they SHOULD know the kids. If the schools cannot do the academic counseling that is required to have healthy approaches to AP's, then they should limit them.

But don't knock AP's in general. If you look at the IB system, it's similar. Take the good and fix the bad.

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Not all PAUSD kids and parents are striving over-achievers. My husband and I have done well enough for ourselves. Our son, a junior, is an excellent good student with a love of learning, and we couldn't be prouder of him. He's in three AP courses either because he is interested in the coursework or "maxed out" in his lane. AP Spanish has no homework and an awesome teacher. AP US History does have copious amounts of homework, but, again, the teacher is amazing, and I've never heard our son complain about course load.
He has just started looking at colleges, with some encouragement from a school counselor. We are looking forward to seeing where he decides to go, and have confidence that he will find a good fit for his needs and talents.

Posted by Fomad
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Teachers are NOT the cause of student stress. It's the stress that the students bring with them from their PARENTS at home, telling them they need to be the next CEO just like dad.

Posted by Dave
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2014 at 9:16 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 20, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Again, I say AP courses should not be allowed to give marks for homework. In university your mark depended upon your mastery of the topic. There are many kids in our schools who actually know the material better than others but refuse to be sucked into the busywork vortex so don't get an A or even a B in the course but get a 5 on the AP test. I am not sure whether some teachers take pride in the amount of homework assigned and mistake it for academic vigour or whether it has evolved that parents or students have pushed to increase the mark allotment for homework so that the drones can get As without true mastery. Some AP courses refreshingly give the student an option at the beginning of the year that allows them to not include homework in their mark. If it truly is to be a college course the student should exhibit enough maturity to know what homework and study to perform in order to gain understanding without being rewarded for it.

Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:36 am

Having sent 3 kids through Gunn, the school has a menu of classes, the student chooses. Actually the root of the problem is that helicopter parents probably choose the students classes. You can take auto shop, theatre, choir, OR you can take AP History, AP Bioloogy, and Computer Science. AP History has red warning signs that it has 4 hours of reading and writing a night. The choice is the students, I'm having trouble with blaming the school, the culture of the parents expectations weighs heavily on these kids. When I was in a high performing high school 40 years ago, it was possible to take 1 maybe 2 AP classes, now we expect kids to take 3-6. The schools haven't changed, how we ask our kids to navigate the curriculum has changed.

Posted by Mary Gardiner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:02 am

4 hours of reading and writing a night? That is crazy. Is there any possible pedagogical purpose for that? That is 16-20 hours a week for one class. High school is supposed to be about education, not hazing. Saying that we provide notice to parents and students so it's fine doesn't make sense to me. It's like making a car with no seat belts, but a big warning label: "No seat belts: drive at your own risk." How about we have a football team with no helmets? We can have a big red sign: "No helmets. Your choice, but once you make it, don't come crying to us when you get a concussion."

Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:06 am

@Bill -- You are fortunate that your three kids could navigate through Gunn and avoid stress. But many of the comments listed here about too much homework are accurate and this has been an on-going problem for many years at both high schools. There are teachers who unnecessarily pile it on. You can say well avoid those classes, but students in other high schools such as Mt. View, Los Altos, don't have to forgo these classes because their homework load is much more reasonable. This is something that the schools/teachers can change and should.

Yes, there are unreasonable parents, but the bigger problem is the college admission process itself. Over the years, it has become more and more competitive, demanding more and more -- perfect grades, perfect test scores, and high levels of community service, and excelling at some activity. That needs to be changed and we have little influence over that.

Probably large numbers of our high school students are capable of attending Stanford or ivies but feel let down when they don't make it. If colleges care, then they need to go to a lottery system. Allow more students to enter that lottery system and then choose randomly.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 10:37 am


"4 hours of reading and writing a night? That is crazy.".....How about we have a football team with no helmets? We can have a big red sign: "No helmets."

Which is why #2 step from Save the 2008 is so good. From their website Web Link">Web Link

• A confidential website where teachers and kids can compare notes on minutes assigned and minutes worked.
• Call it “ClockTalk.”
• For a daily and nightly “conversation” (not for “surveillance”!).
• Before the school-day ends, teachers pause to type in “minutes assigned” for each class.
• That night, students pause to click on “It Took Me Exactly That” or “It Took Me More” or “It Took Me Less.”
• (And maybe type in “actual minutes” and a twitter-sized comment.)
• Result next day: ta-dah! Algorithms and busy mice of ClockTalk have crunched the numbers to show kids and teachers how many total minutes assigned and worked, with regard to: other kids, other classes, other teachers, other teachers teaching the same course, etc., etc.—whatever helps!—including how many total homework minutes were worked in just one night by any one student so that any one teacher who is worried about any one kid can know what’s going on.
• Students’ names visible to teachers, but not to peers.
• Private to kids and teachers. (This isn’t Big Brother.)
• Use of ClockTalk optional.
• But: Build It and They Will Come.
• Homework is—and rightly should be—part of the student-teacher relationship.
• Homework is to teacher-and-students as a shared bank account is to marriage partners.
• Deciding on “the balance,” and what it should be spent on, is part of a close collaboration.
• During that extra, reflective pause every day, teachers will be more careful about “minutes assigned.” And during their pause each night, kids will reflect on how they’ve used their time.
• Rules, oversight, enforcement from without? We’re talking too unwieldy, too contentious, too cookie-cutter, too slow.
• Administrators shouldn’t be homework cops; teachers shouldn’t be suspects.
• Kids have no way to “speak up” to teachers about homework. (It’s too big a risk.) ClockTalk will spark a conversation in class.
The cost?
Ask our kids if they’ll build it. Save the 2,008."

The save the 2008 steps Web Link">Web Link
"1) Downsize classes.
2) Rightsize homework.
3) Rightsize course loads.
4) Turn off, tune in.
5) De-grade grading.
6) Rightsize academic fraud."

If Step #2 would be done right, steps 3, and 6 would be partly solved. Step 1 is pretty straightforward.

Step 5 needs a really look, not just at the amount or frequency of report cards but at relevant timing of grade communication with the students so, no last minute not-yet-posted grades keeping students anxious and frantic. Many teachers do this well already.


This isn't about blaming teachers because we are lucky to have excellent teachers. I would say these suggestions are to address the cumulative problems that arise out of discombobulated homework and grading practices, and speaking to Mary's point, a "Warning" label is not appropriate for 14-17 year olds in this brave new world of academic competition. It's actually an equity issue. Usually somebody by now speaks up about "the real world" but you would ask for better data and equity in the real world too.

Posted by If you don't care, why should others
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 10:57 am

The students beg for change, the teachers beg for change, but the parents say study harder, our housing value depends on you getting into an Ivy.
I'm done with sympathy...reap what you sow.

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 11:04 am

I totally agree with Gunn mom. If AP classes are "college level" courses, then teach them like colleges teach them. In college, the classes don't have ongoing busy homework. Why do the AP's at Paly and Gunn have all this excessive nightly homework? AP's ARE NOT supposed to be BOTH a high school and a college course combined. Drop the high school homework and teach it like a college professor would.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 11:15 am

If you don't care,

Asking your kids to study harder used to be a good thing. Asking them to buck the trends in a competitive system is nice, but it carries it's own level of dishonesty.

Let's focus on the changes that students and teachers want - save the 2008 appears to be motivated by both.

If the type A parents want to block change, let them put up their suggestions, where are they?

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 12:39 pm

pamom - Not all colleges demand "perfect grades, perfect test scores, and high levels of community service, and excelling at some activity." I suggest that you reflect on your distorted view of reality.
The more I read this thread, the more convinced I am that parents are at the heart of the problem, not the number of AP's, the college system or homework.
By age 16, kids should be trying new things, finding passions, and, yes, building resiliency through failure. They should be honing their time management skills; and realizing the importance, for their own mental and physical health, of attaining balance in their lives. If you are still waking your kid up for school, choosing their classes and breathing down their necks about SAT scores and college applications in high school, you are denying them the opportunity to develop as independent thinkers and leaders of the next generation.

Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

@Gunn Mom -- you make good points, and I would like our high school students to have time for themselves and definitely less stress. You are certainly right that there are excellent programs/colleges out there that do not require perfect grades, etc. But then, we'd be saying as a community, don't even try to get into those universities. That doesn't seem like a good solution given that we probably have half the student body who could do well at the ivies and more selective colleges.

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Note there are two "GUNN MOM" one from Barron Park and me. The stress is also increased by our economy. There are fewer spots at our California University systems that were previously the mainstay for the middle class to recieve an excellent yet affordable education. I wish I could quote the source but an article last week reported that lack of funds make non residents much more attractive with their higher tuitions. Although statistically the state says the rate has not changed. They skew the optics by averaging state versus out of state over all the UC's. Now our foreign cash cows are not scrambling to get into Merced but rather Berkeley and UCLA and those are the schools where the statistics show a decrease in in state students. How do we address this? Again the phrase "cash cow" rears its head. Until prop 13 is defeated or amended we will continue to see increased competition to get into our state schools. I am so tired of people who are paying 1/2 or lessof the county taxes than I do (for more valuable homes) pushing me to donate to PIE. I would ask anyone who has owned their home more than 15 years to figure out what their fair market taxes would be and pay that difference into PIE. Then next the PTA efforts should be lobbying to get rid of PROP 13 and I bet a lot of our stress would be eased. Money does make some things go round.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Gunn Mom,

There is no shortage of resilience to be needed day-to-day. Parents getting divorced, getting sick, losing their jobs. The idea that parents and students are do-nothings with no real life challenges other than school is really overdone.

The solutions suggested by the teacher and student are not going to prevent realities of life AND they will allow for more time to be 16.

I don't see the inconsistency with what you are asking for

Posted by Parent
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I think that the school system and the parents are both powerful forces on our students, although it's not necessarily the parents of the effected kids who exacerbate the problems the most. We need to recognize that parents also influence policies which impact kids other than their own.
At the risk of inflaming passions, this link is to an article from 15 years ago by the education author Alfie Kohn, Web Link I'm struck by how much the forces that he identified ring as true today as they did then. Despite the length it's very worth reading and reflecting on. Hopefully, posters will offer thoughtful responses, even if they don't agree with his positions.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm

AP classes cover material that colleges cover, but in a high school setting, in a high school classroom, with high school teachers. In the equivalent college courses, like freshman physics, freshman chemistry, many top colleges have problem sets due that count for part of the grade. Like many principles and theories discussed, some of these ideas make a class less stressful, but ultimately some are more stressful to the student at the end. If a student masters the homework each week, they feel confident going into a midterm or a final. WIthout that homework, they may be super stressed going into finals, at a level way beyond anything we see now, with little confidence or repeated mastery of the principles through problems given to the student each week, that the student subsequently mastered.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm

I think we have extremes and generalizations, and then extreme generalizations

From Homework to Zero homework
From shooting for A's to shooting for B's
From AP's to eliminating AP's
From Harvard to not thinking about college at all

And blaming parents for their privilege and what not.

I like the practical suggestions from save the 2008.

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 21, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I completely agree with Bill Kelly and others who posted similar messages.

It's mostly parental pressure that makes students want to take all those AP classes. My kids knew how much work AP History or AP English would be and decided not to take them because of it. Sure, it meant that they would not be able to attend Harvard or other "top" universities. And so what? They had a happy high school career in PAUSD, a happy college experience, and one of them is now enjoying a successful, productive life, at and outside of work (the other one still being in college) . Isn't that what it should all be about?

Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Duveneck School
on Nov 21, 2014 at 7:46 pm

[Portion removed.] Someone above stated that AP Spanish is easy at Gunn. It's very difficult at Paly (my daughter was a top student in Spanish and said most in class were confused). There is no teacher consistency amongst the schools. Only those who have experienced the bad teachers who overwork students can understand that it's the teachers, not the parents.

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Sorry I had forgotten I had posted before, under a different name, as A bit of common sense please. Apologies about this. I am one and the same person.

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:28 pm

@ Been There, Done That,

Yes, my two kids attended Palo Alto school, one of them very recently.

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:47 pm

It is rarely just one thing that brings on the stress in kids. It's different things for different kids. It can be the kids, themselves, who bring on the high expectations or it can be peers. It can be parents and it most definitely, can be teachers and their homework and grading policies. I guarantee you if there was suddenly grade inflation at Paly and Gunn, much of the stress would go away. As compared to other neighboring schools and schools across the state, there is no doubt significant grade deflation at both Paly and Gunn. It comes at a big cost when kids are applying to UC's and state schools. Getting into those schools is all a numbers game and Palo Alto schools hurt their chances. If you want your kid to go to a top UC or state school, you are better off living in one of the neighboring towns where grading is much easier.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Bill Kelly is right / A bit of common sense

"It's mostly parental pressure that makes students want to take all those AP classes."

First, I am not in favor of a ton of AP's but see good in the AP and IB system and any and all opportunities to challenge oneself in some way. In the same way a student chooses to do Theater, Athletics, or Music, AP can be a great thing for some kids. More than a few AP's becomes an unnecessary race and unless things change with alignment (or the type of practical solutions save the 2008 propose), these "warning" label classes should be cut or limited.

But the reason you are wrong about blaming parents is because peer pressure is more important in high school, and students are not as robotically operated by their parents as you make them out to be. Some of these kids in AP's are like the fastest runner on the track field. They do not deserve to be discounted with these fear based theories of parental privilege. And not all kids who take AP's are bad, and neither are their parents.

Those who take zero AP's are also great, the judgement of what is right or wrong with this choice should simply be off limits. If you want to start a Parent School, the industry is thriving with books and self-help and blame theories, actually from some of the very people who run education.

This apparently is an age old debate.

Posted by OneSourceOfStress
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:03 pm

@Fomad writes: "Teachers are NOT the cause of student stress. It's the stress that the students bring with them from their PARENTS at home, telling them they need to be the next CEO just like dad."

I would like to agree with you, but then we would both be wrong.

I think you would have to work hard to be more offensive, or more incorrect.

Your statement implies that wealthy parents are victimizing their own children, and somehow the teachers are innocent in this problem. It is vulgar and harmful.

I have personally experienced teachers pressuring our kids to do excessive amounts of homework. This generates stress, anxiety and disengagement. EVEN when we, as parents, tell the kids not to worry, don't do the excessive homework, etc. to try to provide some relief. Obviously you have not had this experience.

The long term effect of such an environment is a disengagement from learning and feelings of worthlessness.

So you are wrong. Teachers can be the direct cause of STRESS. And a particularly toxic form of stress which causes kids to disengage from school, and to question their own self-worth. Ignoring this, or imagining that it isn't happening, or blaming it on wealthy parents is some kind of sickness in this town. It is a narrative that is harming our kids.

Posted by PAMom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 10:19 pm

What about sleep? It seems to me that if your child is not getting 8 hours of sleep each night something has to give. School, sports, social, family, homework, bed. If your child is staying up late they are taking too many AP's or involved in too many extra curricular activities. If your child is getting enough sleep and thriving let them continue. I think the value of sleep is overlooked. I have only seen it mentioned a handful of times.

Posted by OneSourceOfStress
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2014 at 8:52 am

There is an interesting dynamic set in motion when Teacher-induced stress is accompanied by Homework overload. Essentially the teachers export chaos and strife into the home. For background on learning mindsets, here is an article from Khan Academy, where he quotes research from Stanford's Dr. Dweck: Web Link

Interesting quote: "People with a growth mindset [to learning], however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes."

I was brought up taught to do my best, try my hardest, get my work done before play, etc. Basically to try hard and persist; so I know that this matters. Dr. Dweck is on to something.

However, when my kid is up until 11pm or midnight in 7th grade and 8th grade doing pointless drudge of homework for weeks on end, the message I have to give them changes. For their own health and well-being, I have to tell them to stop. Put the homework down, you have been given too much.

So Parents are put into a very strange position: we could support the kids and encourage them to try harder, but with the obvious detriment to their health. Or we can draw a line and tell them to stop. Undermining the message that we wanted them to learn: perseverance, try hard, challenge yourself.

Forced to make a decision: do you choose what is best for their health, or do you give them a message to try hard and encourage persistence and tenacity. Health or Learning?

You cannot do both.

You see, when I was growing up, we had rational amounts of homework, and my parents could tell me to get my work done, and reward me when I completed. It was maybe 1-2 hours on the worst of days, and many days 30 minutes. They could afford to teach me tenacity, as it did not mean I would be up until midnight and running on 6 hrs sleep in a perpetual sleep-deprived state.

Today's kids don't get that message: they are told to stop, give up, don't finish that.
Or they are pushed the the point of sleep deprivation and despair.

The schools export this problem to the parents and students when they overload students and pressure them to get everything done. It does not allow parents to teach our kids the character values that we really wanted to teach them. Often these are the same values that would have made the kids more successful learners.

That is one reason why Teacher Stress is toxic.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 9:04 am

Back in my day, the best teachers were the ones that had the goal of all students in the class receiving an A. Their aim was to help us achieve that high grade. They felt just as responsible for a student not attaining that A as the student themselves.

What happened to make teachers think that the value of a good teacher was that only a few As will be rewarded per class? How does that make them look like a better teacher? Surely they have failed as a teacher if they can't teach the students to all receive As?

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 11:20 am


The answer to that question is that our schools are the first level of weeding students to satisfy rankings (be it academic, athletic or artistic). And by doing so have an unpaid college admissions job for sifting students precisely for the elite colleges that the schools themselves keep saying "do not matter".

If you have kids winning a Siemens competition though, or they are the next James Franco, why on earth would you be telling them that elite schools don't matter. Well, because they can't hand off everyone to the admissions officers and need to manage expectations.

Millions are being donated to higher education for groundbreaking research in sciences and the arts, and talented and ASPIRING kids are not immune to understanding what these resources mean. If they want to qualify and apply to these opportunities and good schools, there must be a better way to message, and not call their motivations evil or inappropriate.

Schools have to start being honest about these messages of "the joys of B students" and "the evil AP system" and especially the "privileged parents who push their kids" when it is THEY who are engaged in the daily weeding kids for "success."

It's not the great teachers (we have many of them!!!!) but sadly, the bad teachers (many who get really mean in middle and high school) use their grading and homework wielding power to punish kids of ALL levels of aspirations.
The teachers who are toxic need to be reigned in, and that is for obvious health reasons.

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 11:29 am

PS: Many of the teachers who are not great may also just not be well trained, but enjoy the protections of making the classroom and their practices immune to improvement. It's not all about being mean, they may not even know they could do better. The mean ones are the ones who know better.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

@Agree... "Millions are being donated to higher education..." Millions aren't what they used to be.
Any respectable university multi-year fundraising campaign has its goal in the billions.

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 12:45 pm

There is at least one English teacher at Paly and I've been told one Chemistry teacher at Gunn who strictly limit the number of A's they give in a class. They are up front about it with the kids...The kids are in a panic from the time they walk in the door of the classroom at the beginning of the year until grades are given out at the end of each semester. My child wanted to go to one of the top colleges so he was advised to take the AP english class, which was only taught by one instructor. Everyone I know whose child had taken the course from that teacher told me not to let my son take it. Should I have insisted that he not take the class and not listen to his college counselor who told him he had to take the course in order to be competitive for the kinds of schools he wanted to apply to? Should the fact that Paly has a teacher like that on staff determine my son's course selection and potentially determine what colleges he can apply to? I know plenty of students who chose not to take the class because of the reputation of the teacher and that's true of other AP classes at Paly as well. Kids should not be fearful of taking a class because the teacher has misguided grading and/or homework policies. These teachers should be reigned in. I don't think there are that many teachers that fit this bill, but some do and the school district and the principal know who they are. It really wouldn't take much to get these teachers to back off a bit. It can't be that hard to give them examples of the stress they are creating in kids.

@ onesourceofstress -- I'm surprised your 7th or 8th grader would be staying up so late to do homework. What time are they starting their homework? We never had that experience in middle school

Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm

For those who believe Bill Kelly is right -- he is certainly right about the experiences of his own children. But many children in Palo Alto want to go to the more selective universities. Kelly's advice is skip AP's or take fewer of them and basically scale back. That works for some. And many students do need more time to blossom and may excel/focus later. That's fine. But the problem here is that we have many, many very capable students who could do as well as those who are accepted to Stanford/Ivies/UC's. To tell them don't bother doesn't make sense.

Students in Palo Alto face more homework and tougher grading than in many of the other districts which puts our students at a huge disadvantage in applying to more selective universities. A lot of pressure is coming from our high schools in regards to homework and grading. To tell them skip the AP's doesn't make sense when all over the country other students are able to avail themselves to these classes.

In addition to that, there are some teachers who do not teach the material very well. We do have some fantastic teachers, but the high schools need to look at how they can improve and reduce stress.

Posted by Love Gunn
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Thank you Martha Cabot and Marc Vincenti for leading this campaign. I like your recommendations, but not the header "Rightsize Academic Fraud". I know you clarified that you meant to reduce it down to zero. But putting it at the parallel of "Rightsize Homework" seems to give legitimacy to academic fruad. I recommend using the phrase in your introduction paragraph to title this step as "End Academic Fraud".

Posted by PALY mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Reading that a teacher limits the "A's" given in a class is shocking. the PALY principal needs to stop this from happening. That is abusing power and I certainly believe contributing to the students stress. How can the principal and community allow these teachers to do this to our kids.
Last year my sons teacher said I don't give out many A's but don't worry colleges know that Palo Alto schools are hard. Welcome to Paky! Can we do something as a community?

Posted by Breathe
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2014 at 2:16 pm

[Portion removed.] We Palo Altans have it pretty good and most of our teachers are amazing; there are always going to be exceptions. Are exceptionally bright kids in less affluent towns, like EPA or East Oakland to take it to the extreme, being unfairly discriminated against getting into "ivies and UC's" because their teachers don't give out enough A's? Life is unfair, but the pie is bigger than we think. People need to breathe.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

"Save the 2008" is putting out the word that snazzy, red-and-black bumper stickers and campaign-style buttons are now available at:

The Palo Alto Café (in midtown)

Starbucks, 4131 El Camino (between Arastradero and Maybell)

And "Save the 2008" is putting out the word, too, that anyone who wants to "like" us to the members of the School Board, in some brief comments, could come to their next meeting, on Tuesday, Dec. 9th.

The meeting starts at 6:30 pm, and "Open Forum" (for public comment) starts anywhere from, oh, 6:45 to 7:15.

Our website is:

Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Breathe -- I think you are missing my point. There are more pressures in our district due to too much extra homework and very strict grading policies. This is not just my experience from my own children -- look at what the students in school are saying. These pressures are less in other districts. Look at what is being said about the homework level -- this is not healthy in our district

You accuse me of "entitlement for my precious darlings". That is silly. All of our students matter and we should support all our students. This discussion is about how to make for a healthier environment for all our children.

Posted by Helen Keller
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2014 at 4:59 pm

@paloalto mom: Mine are good students but they have had difficult teachers, even at Jordan. One had two good teachers but extreme homework in sixth grade. Another had three difficult teachers who piled on the homework along with being on a Jordan sports team. It was a rough year. The counselors can't tell the teachers to lessen the load. Thank your lucky stars or God if you don't get a bad batch in one year because it affects the entire family. When it gets that bad, families do any thing they can to help their children. And those who want their children to be independent to build character are lending to the stress of their children.

There is a male English teacher at Paly who is infamous for not returning papers until the end of the semester and is a harsh grader (even in regular lane), perhaps the same one who is mentioned above. In addition, no comments are on the papers so students never learn nor never know where to improve since papers are returned just prior to report cards. Abolish tenure!

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm

@ Helen Keller

There are a few teachers who fit your bill of not returning papers until months after they are turned in and then they are returned with few or no comments. The writing instruction is abysmal across the board at Palo Alto schools. I don't understand it. Writing is the ONE SKILL we know all of our children will need be productive members of society in this world, especially now that the internet is the single most important form of communication in both our personal and business worlds. But PAUSD is a math and science district and no one at the district level has invested the time or money to improve writing. English classes should be limited to 25 students and teachers should be required to return papers in a timely manner with thoughtful comments. In one honors English class at Paly, most of my son's feedback came from his peers -- the teacher regularly had peer-to-peer edits of the assignments. On a paper that made up 40 percent of his grade, his peer gave him a 10 out of 10 on his final draft -- my son, not unreasonably so, decided he needed to do nothing to improve his paper and turned it into his teacher with few changes. The teacher gave him a B, with two measly comments that left him wondering what he did wrong. It's poor instruction and this is in an honors class with a teacher who should be teaching writing.

In a separate class called Living Skills, his teacher had returned no assignments to the kids at all by the end of the first quarter and gave everyone in the class a B+ --- every, single kid. When they asked her why, she said she didn't have time to do the grades so she gave everyone the same grade but that they shouldn't worry because it didn't reflect their work and that she would give more accurate grades at the end of the semester. How is it possible that a teacher doesn't have time to figure out what her students grades are? This is not a joke. It is her job...figuring out grades should not be optional.

This is not reflective of most of the teachers at Paly. There are dozens and dozens of good teachers. Everyone in the school knows who the bad teachers are and who is lazy and who piles's not hard to figure out. The district should bring them in one by one and counsel them on what they can do to improve and if they don't improve, get them out of the classroom. That's what they do in private schools.

Posted by Breathe
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm

@pamom- I am on this thread because my Gunn student also suffers from school-related anxiety and is in counseling for it. As a teacher and a parent, I know first hand how hard both jobs are, and how similar they are. I just think we need to stay focused on the things we can work together to change and keep balance in our own lives and families as best we can for the sake of our kids.

Posted by Cupertino parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2014 at 5:58 pm

As a parent who moved from Palo Alto to Cupertino, I can tell you that PAUSD is wonderful compared to Lynbrook and Monta Vista. The pressure, competition and sheer insanity is unreal. My son and daughter both keep in touch with their friends at Gunn and Paly. Their friends at Gunn and Paly, while there is pressure, feel empowered to make decisions like not take APUSH or other AP tests. At Monta Vista, all the kids get no sleep and my kids say it is so much harsher here than in PAUSD. My kids feel like they can't compete and will never get A's here. You Palo Alto parents have it lucky and you should absolutely appreciate how balanced it is at Paly and Gunn. Those teachers, and the administration, keep saying that kids should enjoy high school. At Monta Vista we only get pressure and insane parents. Any of you would see that PAUSD is so balanced, compared to Monta Vista, if you had the chance.

Posted by Cupertino parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2014 at 6:00 pm

@pamom - but lots of kids DO get into the top schools. 9 or 10 got into Harvard, Yale and Princeton each last year at Gunn, another 5-7 at MIT, and of course the 15-20 at Stanford. That's by far one of the most amazing records in the country. At Mt View and Los Altos if they get 3 or 4 into Harvard Yale or Princeton, that's a great year.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 6:11 pm


The offensive way you refer to students, and the whole "We Palo Altans have it pretty good"....are you pulling our leg?

I've never heard parents refer to each other that way, or call each other's kids "your precious little darlings.".

Please have some respect towards the students. Stop referring to them as insults, and I really hope that you are not a teacher or administrator.

PAUSD needs to check this trash talk about privilege and especially if it's going on on the inside.

Posted by Agree about need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 6:25 pm


In light of the overwhelming support for solving the achievement gap, and two new BOE members elected to advocate for all students, you actually are way off.

Count the votes of where "We Palo Altans" really are and get real.

And by the way, if I were to solve the achievement gap, I would have all Juniors or Seniors aspire to at least 1 AP. And I would HIGHLY recommend the achievement gap students to apply to Harvard and all the elite schools because they are desperate for kids who have have challenged themselves beyond what was expected of them.

Now, not saying everyone should be shooting for elite schools, I am just saying to stop insulting the people who do. Maligning the aspirations of young students is not suicide prevention, it is mixed and erroneous messaging - dishonest too.

And enough of the glorification of B's as long as educators are telling students that "a B in Palo Alto is an A elsewhere." If your boss gave you a 2% raise and your co-worker a 20% raise, would you believe him/her that your 2% raise is really a 20% raise?

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Paly Alum is a registered user.

Great posting, Palo Alto parent. I agree that writing is the most important skill to learn in school. I attended Paly in the early 80s when PAUSD was known to have excellent writing instruction in middle and high school. We'd go to class and be taught how to write. We'd be assigned short papers and they'd be returned with lots of feedback. Connecting with alums on Facebook now, everyone has excellent grammar. . . and now teachers have resorted to peer grading, like a peer is going to know more than a college graduate. I thought accepting a position as an English teacher would be accepting the fact that grading papers is going to take extra time outside of class.

Posted by Really ?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm

@PalyAlum: Moving beyond your naiveté about the reason most folks work for a living, I'll go instead to quoting your post, "I thought accepting a position as an English teacher would be accepting the fact that grading papers is going to take extra time outside of class." Remember that you get what you pay for. Those hours are not compensated. Do you really expect your attorney to work outside of the fee structure? Yet you imply that teachers working with young people to foster critical thinking and clear writing, do so - what gives? Anyone else get the sense we've fallen down the rabbit hole?

There are so many high-tech and low-tech solutions to the challenges of turn-around time for feedback. Check-out the various software programs that give students a first take on their writing errors, limit class size to a seminar size in writing-heavy courses, reduce the full-time English teacher assignment to four sections, not five, require writing teachers to work "full-time" and be available to student-writers during the school day, and most importantly, make journalism classes count for UC English credit. Innovation will resolve this - the blame game is so 20th century....boring.

PAUSD is singularly positioned to challenge the UC system's hegemony on course qualifications for college admissions - if not here, where?

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 7:44 pm


You are on to something, I heard many who think English should be an elective. Critical thinking is taught in many other ways.

And I know for a fact that many families outsource English at PAUSD.

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Paly Alum is a registered user.

@Really?: I'm the wrong person to confront. My husband is a physician and I have tutored part-time - we both are finished when we are finished, not necessarily when the bell rings. Without extra compensation, my husband works overtime if patients are squished into his already overbooked schedule and I work overtime if the student needs more help and no one is in line. As per the attorney fee structure, it's no wonder there are so many dead lawyer jokes. Physicians are expected to give all their extra time to help patients and teachers are also expected to enjoy children and at least do their job. They aren't doing their jobs if they are not correcting English papers, as the children can't learn if papers are not corrected. The time clock mentality is irresponsible. In addition, if you think you get what you pay for, then why are our PAUSD teachers paid more than teachers in other districts? The phrase that comes to mind is: The pot calling the kettle black. Another word that comes to mind is: LAZY.

Posted by PALYMOM
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2014 at 8:53 pm

At JLS my son would write papers in English and never get them returned or graded. Then when he asked the teacher when he ould get the grade the teacher said that he is busy with family and doesn't have time to grade. The peer editing is what the rely on, even in 4th grade. My 4th grade daughter just did peer editing and she hasnt been taught about how to use commas or what is a paragraph.
The 9th grade parents at PALY are offered a course on how to help their kids write. Something is broken. I can't afford a $120 hour tutor for English like my kids peers. Also, Palo Alto math isn't strong. Most kids have tutors or their parents help them. The system is just broken.

Posted by Really?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2014 at 9:11 pm

@Paly Alum - get real. My PAMF docs don't respond to email off the clock,...and if you are going to cite dead lawyer jokes, at least get your source right - the Bard shudders at your misinterpretation.

My point is this - there are innovative solutions to the writing feedback loop. Computer algorithms offer a first pass in much the same was a digital mammograms searches for patterns to alert the radiologist. Seminar-sized writing classes and journalism-focused classes all meet the criteria for student engagement in a value-laden, choice-driven, student-driven curriculum. Respectfully, I suggest that you do your research before waving your husband's work choice as a justification for your narrow understanding of what is going on in PAUSD classrooms.

Education is a complex process, not dissimilar to medicine.

Ever thought about gaming up your part-time tutoring to meet the needs of 30 adolescents in a classroom?

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2014 at 11:22 pm

A few comments: I wholeheartedly agree that classes should be downsized. This is not just for the mental health of students (though I agree that downsizing them would probably be beneficial) but because smaller classes are better environments to learn. There is a reason many colleges have discussion sections with 20 or fewer (15ish being the norm, as far as I can tell) students as opposed to the ~35 we have in PAUSD classes.

@Hellen Keller RE: The Paly english teacher who gives no comments. I believe I know exactly who you're talking about, unless there are 2 english teachers who don't give them. He informs every class at the beginning of the year that students may ask for comments to be given on every single paper for the semester or on certain papers, and at anytime can meet with him to go over comments/get comments. I had him and literally all you needed to do was type 'Comments please' at the beginning of the year (or from any point thereafter). He made it excessively clear each time he assigned a paper that you could ask for comments. His justification for not always giving them is he found that many students never read them anyway (true) and made the same mistakes, and if a student wasn't going to read the comments why give them? Seems reasonable enough to me. Have your kid ask for comments... it's a two word email.

Living skills should be reexamined... comments on alumni surveys indicate exactly this.

PAUSD's, or at least Paly's, English curriculum does not prepare you for college nearly as well as their chemistry, math, or history departments do. They should focus on teaching writing rather than grading you on your ability to interpret text... a skill which you will only need if you're an English major. The ability to write, however, is more necessary for a variety of majors / future careers. <--- this is my opinion, by the way

Posted by Katniss
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

@ Parent of Jordan Middle School

Thanks for posting the Alfie Kohn article, “Only for My Kid
How Privileged Parents Undermine School Reform”, Phi Delta Kappan, April 1998
See Web Link

Every parent, teacher, administrator and board member should read this. Palo Alto is one of the communities cited in the article to illustrate how influential parents are blocking education reforms. Kohn’s advice is to educate and mobilize parents to put pressure on the school board and administrators to effect change for the benefit of ALL students. With a new superintendent and two new board members who have been immersed in activities to improve the social emotional health of our children, we may be able to finally make significant improvements to create a supportive school environment for our children to the benefit of student health and learning.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

It isn't just that these parents are ignoring everyone else's children, focusing their efforts solely on giving their own children the most desirable education. Rather, they are in effect sacrificing other children to their own. It's not about success but victory, not about responding to a competitive environment but creating one. As Harvey Daniels of National Louis University sees it, "The psychology of those parents is that it's not enough for their kids to win: others must lose -- and they must lose conspicuously."

Or consider two essays published independently in 1996. The first, in the American Educational Research Journal, describes a series of interviews with "educated, middle-class mothers, perceived by others as well as themselves as liberals who believe in integrated and inclusive education." In the course of conversation, these women pronounced themselves committed to equity and tolerance but then proceeded (under questioning) to become far more passionate in dismissing these very ideals when it came to the advantages they thought their own children should receive. The self-described liberals tended to "support segregated and stratified school structures that mainly benefit students of the middle class," the researchers discovered.
The second article, published in the Harvard Educational Review, contains a very serious charge leveled by Wells and her colleague Irene Serna: tracking, advanced placement (AP) courses, and gifted programs do not provide differential instruction for legitimate pedagogical reasons -- or allow for a system based on merit -- so much as they represent a naked grab for artificially scarce benefits by those who have the power to get them.


Organizing the less-powerful parents. Rather than directly oppose the parents who demand the preservation of programs that benefit only their own children, Jeannie Oakes advises educators to reach out to all the other parents, to "build community advocacy for an equity agenda" so that school board members, administrators, and politicians hear from everyone with an interest in the issue, instead of just from the elite.
Respecting a moral bottom line. Educators should do all they can to bring parents aboard, to persuade and inform and organize, but in the final analysis there are some principles that have to be affirmed and some practices that cannot be tolerated. As one Maryland educator put it, "We're not in the business of educating one group of students. As professionals we're responsible for educating everyone, and there are things that we must not do. That's a moral and professional issue."

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Slightly miffed that the bumper stickers are just for Gunn. I was hoping that this would be a joint school effort.

Paly has a similar culture and the community should be supporting both schools. We have had suicides and attempted suicides due to school issues too.

Quite often the stressed students at Paly feel left out when the discussions is always about Gunn. Part of the stress at Paly is by those whose hope is for sport to help them to get into college, and of course there is not enough space on the team or enough play time, and as the schools continue to grow the competition to get on the team is enormous.

Please support both high schools in this endeavor.

Posted by Agree with need morel timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm


The 1998 quotes you posted refer to privilege as regards serving one group of students, and forgetting others, as in the achievement gap.

I would say that "parent reform" may be progressing on this one and the recent election is Exhibit A, with parents voting for candidates who were very vocal about serving all students.

What has not progressed much since 1998 is school reform. Save the 2008 has excellent practical suggestions to reform some really important things about work loads and communications, and if you read this thread most parents agree and support the initiative.

The recent election has given me hope that we have the right people to make this happen.

Posted by My child had both English teachers
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2014 at 3:55 pm

@Helen Keller and C: My child just graduated last year and had both English teachers mentioned in your postings! The one who doesn't return papers until the report cards are due at the end of the semester was teaching regular lane World Lit. The teacher who "C" is referring to, who tells students they need to request comments teaches Film Comp. Fortunately, my child is a good writer because of my teaching while proofreading over the years.

Meanwhile, my other child had a young teacher in regular lane (but also teaches accelarated lane) who comments on papers via Google docs but is such a harsh grader that the only way to ace the papers was for me to proofread excessively for content, analysis, and of course, grammar, which was good teaching for my child. There is no way an average student could earn an A in her class without parental help.

In our experience over the years, we have found it comical that some teachers expect so much from students that they disperse "B" grades when papers are parent-approved by parents with graduate English degrees.

Not all English teachers expect so much, but if your child gets one of these, you've been warned.

I think students should have the option to rewrite for redemption but that would require even more work for teachers.

Posted by Reform college admission
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm

In my opinion, all these stress for high school students have is because of the current college admission method. GPA is heavily counted in admission process, which means that students have to be very careful starting from 9th grade. Any B or C grade in a class will dump their dream to get in reasonable college, including UC. Yet, GPA is solely decided by a teacher. Boys usually mature later than the girls and are more of a "trouble maker" in a class, so very often, boys get lower grade due to careless of their homework or not listen to teacher in the class.

If GPA is not that heavily counted in college admission, student will have much less stress and more freedom, willing to try some classes that they may not sure like it or not. The country I grew up does not use GPA for college admission, but only college entrance exam. Well, you may think that this college entrance exam is more stressful. Yes, it is. But we have good time in high school, don't need to worry about missing a homework, as long as you understand the material, you are good to "play", or challenge yourself for some tough classes without worrying getting a B or C.

I would say some teachers are not good or lazy or too busy. I remember when my son was in Gunn, he did not do well in English class due to missing assignment or return assignment without putting his name there. He got C for the first grade report. So, I contacted his English teacher for advise. The advise I got from his teacher was, either drop to regular lane or hire a private tutor, although he knew missing homework was the reason but not my son's english level :-(. No help was offered by the teacher. So, what a poor parent can do, force to hire a tutor to monitor his homework, make sure son does it and returns it for that year.

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 23, 2014 at 6:13 pm

"Any B or C grade in a class will dump their dream to get in reasonable college, including UC"

What is a reasonable college according to you? I am asking because my child who graduated from a Palo Alto high school this year was a B student and was admitted to several UCs, although, granted, not Berkeley, UCLA, or UC San Diego. Are you saying that there are UCs that are not "reasonable colleges"? This to me would show that the parent has an attitude problem if he/she thinks so. There are more than 20-30 "reasonable colleges" in the world!! Or are you saying that a B student cannot get into a UC? That is plain wrong as my child can testify.

Parents need to relax, and also reconsider whether their child really MUST be at Havard/Berkeley/Stanford. I know plenty of students who did not go to those universities and are now doing great with their lives, including better than some of their classmates who did go to those prestigious institutions. Parents should have a bit of faith in their kids.

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Bill Kelly is right,

You know, there is enough pressure as it is with kids being sorted and sifted for greatness in school every single day by the very system which is saying "relax".

Is it really any of your or Bill Kelly's business what any student or their families aspire to?

Plain bullying to insist on your belief system. Trust me, I am the alternative pathways type parent but I am stunned by the judgement passed on those who are looking at UC San Diego. What a sin!!! And you are not bullying the parents by the way, you are bullying students.

The blessing of a skinned knee has gone on steroids here. Almost like some will not be happy until everyone is kicking each other in the knees.

Most kids have "reaches," "target," and "back-up" schools, or something like that - is this also offensive to you?

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I do agree that the college application process is broken and needs to be fixed. I know that it is something bigger than just a Palo Alto issue, but I do believe that a grassroots effort has to start somewhere and will snowball around the country.

I am not sure how this can start, but I do believe that there can be a grassroots effort here in Palo Alto to get other districts involved and a nationwide movement could follow.

In other countries that I know of, there is nothing like the craziness that we have in the U.S. Even a lottery for qualified students would be better than what we have now. A central college board application process would also make a lot more sense than all these individual applications. The same high level students getting several places at the various schools where they can only choose one, shows that some type of overhaul makes a lot of sense.

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

@ Agree with need more timely grades

Who is trying to bully who here ?? !!

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Bill Kelly is right,

"Parents need to relax, and also reconsider whether their child really MUST be at Havard/Berkeley/Stanford."

I'm sorry but this is not helpful to ask parents or students to reconsider choices which should be personal.

You could be recommending parents to reconsider serving pancakes for breakfast, I would still disagree that this is more helpful than practical changes to the schools about work load.

We've probably both reached the limit of arguing if parents are to blame, and half of the recommendations on save 2008 are for parents to help with, so why not focus on that.

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 23, 2014 at 8:01 pm

@ Agree with need more timely grades

If we want to solve the problem of student stress in our schools, we might want to see where its true roots lie.

I am actually all with the students and, to me, strident, aggressive parents are bad news.

Above and beyond that, my kids are now done with PAUSD, so I don't really care to argue with people like you.

Posted by Grayish Around
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 24, 2014 at 10:40 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Mother
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2014 at 11:57 am

Cabot and Vicenti, thank you very much for your iniciative, and I am in total support of your move, as many Palo Altans who also see the need to come to senses. Thank you to all wo are helping reduce the frenzi. the time has come in which the students themselves are speaking out and influencing politics. I love it!!! That is how our new generations can reshape the wrong things in our world! My children are still very young, but I was working to see this type of change for the time they reach high school. Thank you for working to save not only the 2008 current students. Your iniciative may go much further than you would imagine. Thank you from the future generations!

Posted by sigh
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 24, 2014 at 12:31 pm

This thread is kinda like the "climate change" debate. In the end it doesn't matter if you think climate change is happening or if it is man made: Less pollution is a good thing, more efficient cars is a good thing, more efficient electricity use is a good thing, more energy independence is a good thing, ....

The 6 requests on 2008's website are good things! It doesn't matter who you think is to blame. They certainly aren't blaming anyone, they are asking for help.

Posted by There are counterexamples
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

"all these stress for high school students have is because of the current college admission method. GPA is heavily counted in admission process, which means that students have to be very careful starting from 9th grade. Any B or C grade in a class will dump their dream to get in reasonable college, including UC."

I strongly disagree. Here is the link to a "reasonable college": Web Link

An interesting article also came out this morning: Web Link

Posted by Exceptions that prove the rule
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Harvard and University of Chicago are not counterexamples. If you think a Paly student need not sweat a C because they are targeting University of Chicago, you are mistaken; a university web site stating that there is no minimum GPA requirement notwithstanding.

The problem is that it is a competitive situation. There may not be a minimum GPA, but low grades (e.g. multiple Cs) would need a very good proactive explanation. University of Chicago admissions are competitive.

Harvard also requires good grades for almost all of its students, and relatively lower grades (which almost all Paly students receive compared with what they would receive at many other schools providing a comparable education) need a good explanation.

In as much as the argument of a counterexample is that siblings and parents matter as much as grades, it is a good one. A student can't do much about that, and won't stress over it as much as grades.

These failed attempts at counterexamples really buttress the argument that grades matter in university admissions.

But I think they should matter. The tests are just junk; they can be and very often are gamed. They are not predictive of grade or graduation success even at the university they enable admission to. High School grades are at least somewhat predictive of university grades. But neither is predictive of career or life success, which is the real measure of how much is gained by attending university.

Posted by old, wise Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 24, 2014 at 5:26 pm

I am amused by those who think U of Chicago isn't a high-stress AND a high quality university.
I assure you it is a fine educational institution.
Harvard and Stanford aren't even rated "tops" in every subject/department (if one puts much stock in the doctored ratings scheme of a certain magazine...)
It is SO tiresome to see self-centered persons focus on Harvard and Stanford...get a life and get out sometime in the world.

Posted by Agree with need timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Given grade deflation in Palo Alto, the arguments to embrace B's is dishonest.

Without changes like save the 2008, B's will just be be the new A's.

One change that I would like to see is equitable access to study materials. The range of gaming the system is impressive from taking a class ahead of time during the summer, to tutors, to using old tests, old labs, old notes, old homework, which both students and parents collect.

As far as I'm concerned, teachers should ask students to build a database of old notes, old tests, old quizzes, so that next year's class can learn from them. Or wikis for every topic the teacher wants kids to know about.

That's how cooperation works, by sharing and wanting everyone to do well.

And give kids more chances for redemption (many many more chances). Learning happens when you have more chances.

Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2014 at 5:53 pm

@Exceptions that prove the rule
@old, wise paly parent

No one said anything about University of Chicago not being competitive, but somehow you took exception to one is dissing University of Chicago

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm

There are counterexamples,

Legacy is an issue in Palo Alto. The percentage of legacies of top quality universities, including U. of Chicago :) is high, maybe even outrageously high. Usually with 2 parents, and 4 parents! I was once in a private school open house, and the headmaster pulled small groups into a room, and there was a "consortium" for one kid. There is also grandparent legacy, and now sibling which I didn't know was so big.

Legacy advantage is very real, so kids with or without good grades are a candidates, especially if it's a "holistic" process.

The plan to de-grade colleges because that will reduce kids trying "to get in" is counterproductive. PAUSD should not be playing mother to "protect" kids from failing to get in. Kids are smarter than that! They will play their lottery ticket and apply apply apply. And if they are legacies it's poor advice to not aspire to get in.

Don;t make it a sin to look at top schools, or UC San Diego. These schools may lose out on some great candidates. Instead of de-grading colleges, upgrade our kids and make everyone eligible to apply wherever they want. Make them shine for any school they want to go to.

Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm

The problem with Paly and Gunn is that they actually disadvantage their kids from getting into competitive UC's and state schools. Kids in neighboring districts who have far less rigor in their academics and far easier grading will get into these schools when very smart, hard-working Paly and Gunn students, who are every much as deserving, get rejected. Why would Palo Alto want to give their kids a disadvantage to getting into these schools? I really don't understand the logic.

Posted by There are counterexamples
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

I agree that many Palo Alto kids got into top colleges due to legacy advantage, but some parents don't seem to believe "holistic admissions" do exist. I've personally known a recent Paly graduate (non-athlete) who got into a top-20 university with a mix of As and Bs. That student wouldn't have been accepted if "GPA is heavily counted in admission process".

Posted by Cupertino parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm

I'm surprised no one else has pointed this out - Paly and Gunn get way more kids into Harvard/Yale/Princeton, MIT,Stanford, and that continues at every level, including Berkeley, UCLA, other UCs. The top schools know that there are many more qualified candidates at Gunn and Paly than even at other fine area schools like Mt View and Los Altos. 9 got into Harvard, 7 got into Yale, 10 got into Princeton, 5 into MIT, and of course 15-20 at Stanford. For Berkeley I believe 80 or 90 students got in. The tougher grading, as you call it, means that those schools all know our graduates are much better prepared for college than at other fine schools.

If Gunn and Paly watered down the curriculum (still difficult, but more like Los Altos and Mt View), lessened the homework, I agree that kids would be happier, but I'm sure all those top schools would significantly reduce the number of students they took, because they wouldn't know anymore if all As means as much. The reason they disportionately let in Gunn and Paly students is definitely partly because of the rigor and that an A at Gunn and Paly means a lot more than at another school.

As I said before, my students go to Monta Vista now, and it's even more pressure packed and intense, without the balance that we found at Gunn.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm

@Cupertino Parent
I notice that you describe Gunn and Paly students as being "our graduates". I know that some of Los Altos Hills is in the PAUSD. Is there a section of Cupertino that is in our district as well?

Posted by Cupertino parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 10:26 pm

Sorry, I still think of Gunn as our school, even though my children go to Monta Vista now. Monta Vista is a very good school, but it definitely suffers from the worst things described in this forum conversation. I honestly don't feel that many parents have the best interest of the student at heart. I have lots of stories!

At Gunn, we felt that the teachers were always fair, sometimes when they were overworked they might be initially dismissive of our questions, but as we got to know them over the year, we always felt like we could approach them with reasonable questions. There are so many kids at Gunn who are just worldly - they think about life, they don't just want to know the answer, they want to think through it. I hear you about issues with specific teachers, but we just had good luck for a year, and our children were able to talk things out with the one or two teachers who initially were stubborn. I know how frustrating it must be to parents who have bad experiences and who can't get through to the teacher.

Posted by Agree with need more timely grades
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Cupertino parent,

It could also very well be that the acceptance rates here are due mostly to legacy numbers.

Stanford professors are residents, thus their children are here; we have thousands of Stanford alums here, so it's actually surprising that more students are not getting into Stanford from PAUSD. Yale, Princeton, MIT, many legacies here from those schools as well. Somebody should really do the legacy numbers, just so they are not confused that it's all because of PAUSD rigor.

What if we are actually not getting enough PAUSD graduates into these schools given the legacy advantage?

The save 2008 suggestions - Smaller class sizes, realistic data about homework for better alignment (equity), red alerts for too many AP's, shutting down the phones, fewer report cards, and no cheating - these don't interfere with rigor. But about rigor, every report you hear from our college students, is "it's so much easier than high school.

Another reason by the way why students can get into some good schools is athletics, or other talents like theater, music, etc. Anyway, what students should not be doing is having to justify themselves for their aspirations or choices or why they got in, or not.

The focus should be on what schools can control, or at least try, and the ideas from save the 2008 seem practical and make a lot of sense.

Posted by Cupertino parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 11:13 pm

@Agreed with,

I agree that the save 2008 recommendations make sense.

I was addressing the theme that didn't necessarily line up 100% with the approach of the save 2008 recommendations.

"Kids in neighboring districts who have far less rigor in their academics and far easier grading will get into these schools when very smart, hard-working Paly and Gunn students, who are every much as deserving, get rejected. Why would Palo Alto want to give their kids a disadvantage to getting into these schools?"

I agree there are multiple factors, but I'm just saying that the rigor definitely is a big factor. You think it's somehow more about our students just having much more innate abilities (there's some word for this, but I don't think there's one that exactly corresponds with what several folks are trying to get at). Who knows? Maybe that is a major factor. But I look at "students find college easy" as a good sign that the rigor prepared them. And maybe the changes in save 2008 will still preserve the rigor, just make it more manageable.

But the sentiment of far less rigor and far easier grading will get MORE students into the top schools, I think, isn't necessarily true. If it's to the extent that high school is pretty easy and students don't feel challenged, I think the top schools won't let as many students in. One of the critical questions here is - do kids ultimately do much better in high school if they are pushed a lot? Or can they learn a lot while not being pushed and still be much better academically than other students from the top high schools around the country that were in rigorous high schools?

If Los Altos and Mt View are not that stressful and kids don't feel overloaded, that's amazing. But anecdotally that's not what I've heard from the two or three parents I know who have children at Los Altos and Mt View High School. It seems like every high school, kids are very stressed. But like I said, I definitely don't know that much about those schools, except that those few parents that I know, lament that their kids don't have much of a chance to get into the very top schools in the country. They envy Gunn who sends so many students to the top schools, to the point that it seems like 1/4th of the senior class gets into a very top school (Ivy, Stanford, MIT, Duke, Northwestern, Pomona, etc etc etc)

We made a choice to move to Cupertino. We're not happy comparatively with Monta Vista vs Gunn. But there were several factors that made it so our children are going to Monta Vista and we're living in Cupertino. Our family has reconciled ourselves to that, and our message to our children is - don't kill yourself at Monta Vista. Work hard but draw lines, and if you get a B or two every semester, so be it. Our children are very happy to aim at the kind of schools that they can get into, with one or two B's a semester. I absolutely agree that is a choice for each family. I still support my friends who want to send their kids to the best schools possible. I just wonder though what is the right formula. Easing the homework load and not taking every single AP possible seems sane. But it just seems to me that what goes with that is accepting that if your high school kid draws a line and decides they are not going to kill themselves, that's a sane choice, and maybe what goes with that is that they still aim for Harvard or Yale, but also are ready for the possibility that they may end up at a safety school, that they've chosen wisely, and they are happy at.

I think most of the parents on this thread are saying - "Look, my kid has every right to aim for the very top schools" but they also seem realistic that they may end up at a school not as prestigious as their targets. Whether we make it more of a lottery system by giving lots more As out, I just wonder if that's in the best interests of the students, who want to go to those top schools. What if - it happens exactly as some prescribe, and the % of As is doubled or tripled, and most students in AP classes get As. And what if the colleges, who definitely are very on top of this all, see in their numbers that it seems like many more Gunn students are getting As and there's not that much differentiation in grades. And they let say 1/3rd of the Gunn students in vs before. I would think that many parents would then say this did not work out at all. I don't know for sure what's going to happen. I just raise this as a possibility, that should be considered in conjunction with the other impacts speculated on.

Posted by Agree...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2014 at 12:46 am

Cupertino parent,

You seem to confuse arguments in favor of letting people make their own choices about where to aspire to or where to apply to with "look my kid has every right to aim for the top schools." Two different things.

The real issue are the grades right? It's not what schools to reach to, but the fact that shooting for A's to get into top schools has become a bad thing in Palo Alto. I would like to understand what bothers more - aspiring to the so called top schools, or what you refer to as pushing to get good grades? If we assume both are equally bad, then suicide prevention would be solved by suggesting people to not apply to top schools and thus not push for good grades.

The real question I would say is why do you have to suffer so much to get A's? So much that your parents will be doing you harm if they encourage you to get A's? Failing high expectations is harder than failing low expectations, but should that now mean schools give everyone a GPA prescription to avert failing at all?

I imagine this debate will continue, but the one thing that I cannot fathom is that people will be mad if the improvements suggested by save the 2008 will make things too easy in high school, and then the colleges will find out everyone is having too much fun, and not accept as many students. If that happens, let's cross that bridge when we get there.

Posted by old, wise Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 25, 2014 at 9:09 am

What happens at Paly and Gunn is a fist fight for the tippy top and many who seemingly would suit and be qualified for a variety of top 20 schools don't necessarily get offers. What I witnessed - often - was surprise when this happens. It is too bad that we have a lot of very high middle high achieving kids who are outmaneuvered by a few really carefully-managed kids - it pays off, sadly, to be well-managed by adults in your academic career.
What I suggest is that if a kid is wait listed at a school s/he would really like to attend, DO express that interest and stay on that one wait list. It is awkward. I saw kids drop off a Stanford wait list and then someone who was less of a strong candidate did get in (from Paly).
Legacy helps, make no mistake, and you are going to have a ton of legacy parents in PAUSD.
The "very top," who don't get to that position serendipitously!, compete with a team of parents and tutors and carefully planned ECs (like major research). A kid who stumbles onto a genuine interest may not have time in this system and in this peer environment to "catch up" to have the level of EC experience to compete - this does not mean they are "stupid" or "slow" but rather a teensy bit naive OR doing their own academic career without the extreme assistance of adults (paid and parents) and they Are disadvantaged in the elite college admissions race.

Posted by Agree....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

old, wise Paly parent

Thank you for the stark reminder that there are hundreds of other things that parents do outside of school to plan their kids academic package. For a kid who has no such academic crafting (or research opportunities), school grades are important. So telling that kid to get B's and to control their aspirations is dishonest.

Schools should not be unpaid college admissions officers weeding and wielding power over who gets A's. It's like there is a fear that making schools more human will cause more A's. Making schools more sensitive to students actually may mean more kids getting A's. Isn't' that a good thing?

Posted by old, wise Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I'm not actually that old...
But I did see some things that sadden me here, not too long ago.
I have also see other areas of the country, yes, high-achieving areas, and I have some knowledge of another country.
just God forbid high school should involve learning and exploration and self-guided, self-motivated students.
Instead the "cram school" mentality has hit Silicon Valley with gusto: it's all about the grades, baby, and tutoring ahead of all those AP courses to ensure A's.
Message from many parents: 'Win" and beat the other guy, no matter the cost.
These are the same parents who don't understand the American system of (to some extent) wholistic university admissions.
I suggest: more in-class work (to prevent tutors from writing essays and etc.); more group work (with systems in place to ensure accountability of all members); signed statement if student has previously taken the curriculum before taking a class for a grade.
Some parents here HATE for their students to do any group work 0 God forbid one learns to cooperate and work with others! - And they want the grade all for their own student.
Signed statement on college apps indicating whether student had paid SAT/AP/ACT/Intel/Math competition/College Admissions preparation/tutoring.
Finally, teachers should have the attitude of wanting as many students as possible to master the course material and to gain something from taking a class. Aritifical "weeding out" or intimidation may affect the uninitiated or naive or non-parent-protected students, not those who are "lesser" while encouraging an unpleasant atmosphere that is not collegial.

Posted by old, wide Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Sorry, in a hurry, had several typos there - and gtg

Posted by Bill Kelly is right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 25, 2014 at 12:53 pm

"Schools should not be ... wielding power over who gets A's"

I love this statement!

@ old, wise Paly parent

What you describe is exactly what happened to my child, who was wait-listed at three "top" universities, but chose to go to a university that accepted him straight away, even though less prestigious.

He is happy, thriving at the university he is at, and I know that it in no way diminishes his career/grad school prospects. I know it because this happened to his older sibling too, and his older sibling is now doing better than various classmates who went to Stanford, Berkeley, etc.

In the meantime, my child and I draw much pride in knowing he did it without parent engineering, hired counselors or tutors, all on his own merits, and yes, with some Bs. He is a self-assured young man who will do well, not someone ""stupid" or "slow" but rather a teensy bit naive" because he did not game the system to attend a so-called "elite" college.

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm

@Old, wise Paly Parent: "Some parents here HATE for their students to do any group work 0 God forbid one learns to cooperate and work with others! - And they want the grade all for their own student."

And some students also hate group projects, because certain peers have not learned to work with others. How do you feel about group projects with individual grading? Also the popularity of group projects is often dependent on what group you are given, and how the teacher assigns groups. Some teachers assign groups entirely randomly, some A students with A students and the like, and others the A student with the C student in hope A will teach C about the class. These options have varying success. Just because a parent or student does not like group projects does not mean they do not want to "learn to cooperate and work with others" but may just mean they don't enjoy doing or watching their child do more than their fair share of the work.
RE: "with systems in place to ensure accountability of all members." These only work to some extent... you can report the kid who you have a record of saying via text "I can't make the meeting because there's a football game on" but not the kid who simply does some but less work. In my entire HS career, I think I only had one project where the group did exactly equal amounts of work (it was a 2 person group. It's much harder to achieve this equality with larger groups). If, at the end of the year, one student needs a B on a project to get an A in the class while the other needs an A to get an A, and they put in work accordingly, what do you do? Do you punish the first student for aiming for a B, and doing slightly less work? Or was it 'fair'? If you're never going to get equal workloads, perhaps group projects should be done away with or assigned less frequently...

"Any B or C grade in a class will dump their dream to get in reasonable college, including UC"
I just checked on Naviance, and the average accepted for UC's indicates that having a few B's is not a problem (this agrees with my own information about who got into UC's from my year + what grades they had). I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post the data here, if I am I would gladly do so.

Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Agree with poster named "C" regarding group projects. We have been through the system and group projects sound great as a way to learn to get along, but are not practical in schools due to the importance of grades determining the future of students. Face it, children need to get along with others throughout their school years, so they are learning along the way. We had students who claimed they had no transportation on weekends because they took the bus to school and it leaves after school so they cannot stay after school. There are also others who don't have the same work ethic. My kids ended up carrying most projects while the others had a free ride. The only fair grading is grading individually.

Another agreement is "B"s on transcripts - they won't kill a transcript. There are other factors in admission evaluations. Some kids who get lots of "B"s but take a lot of APs can gain admission to elite schools. But the one I'm thinking about is also a Nat'l Merit Scholar . . .

Posted by Agree....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm

So, now that everyone is OK with the fact that a few B's won't kill you, how does everyone feel about C's?

Is there a relationship with less stress and C's?

I would say having C's at Paly or Gunn would be probably be insanely stressful.

My point is that people should let the grades fall where they may, and the schools should not be dictating stress appropriate GPA's and ridiculing a kid who feels bad for being 4 points from an A, after being hazed with so much work.

Schools should be focusing on making every class equitable and accessible (and peaceful) for everyone to aspire and reach their fullest potential. I agree with more in-class work, and un-graded project work which has teacher supervision. Project work should not be free babysitting. How do you fairly grade cooperation anyway? Subjective grading is risky business when you have a power hungry teacher.

Since everyone only wants to talk grades, my conclusion is that if you really want to stop the "engineered" careers, make A's more accessible. And if anyone is afraid that save the 2008 will cause more grades, too bad.

Posted by Agree...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2014 at 4:54 pm


And if anyone is afraid that save the 2008 will cause more A's, too bad.

More A's is good.

Posted by Cupertino parent
a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2014 at 6:50 pm


You misunderstood me.

When you said:
You seem to confuse arguments in favor of letting people make their own choices about where to aspire to or where to apply to with "look my kid has every right to aim for the top schools." Two different things.

I think that people should be able to make their own choices. I think that parents are justified saying that it's up to them and their child if they want to aim for the top schools. It's up to them. It's their choice. They should aspire to whatever they want and they should be able to make their own choices.

Posted by SaveTheBathWater
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 26, 2014 at 7:59 am

Does anyone believe the schools will use "Save The 2008?"

PSN (Project SafetyNet) had large community involvement, and significant lobbying efforts AND money from the city; and yet the schools did NOTHING.

Why would anyone expect "Save The 2008" to go anywhere?

Like, honestly, Mr. Vincenti, you may have good intentions, but your level of commitment to this project is low: "...We aren't here as leaders ... and we hope to withdraw after simply placing this proposal in the community's hands, as if we were leaving a baby swaddled in warm blankets on the doorstep of good people,"


That's it? One speech and no more?

Given how hard the schools resisted implementing PSN, and how much push was there, I think your analogy of placing a baby on a doorstep was poorly chosen.

You should go back and get the baby, nobody is home.

You are very naive to think that simply suggesting change in this district is sufficient to make change.

Here's an example: you were teaching in 2010 when PSN made its recommendations to the school. How many changes did you adopt based on their "suggestion"?

Some? Any? None?

Did you lobby then for the reluctant schools to adopt PSN?

If not, then you can personally see the challenges ahead for your proposal. Good Luck, we need(ed) you.

Posted by SaveTheBathWater
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 26, 2014 at 9:23 am

Mr. Vincenti,

Here is a suggestion to turn this into action:

1) add an actionable bullet to your proposal: "I pledge to immediately cut homework by 1/3rd immediately, I can do my part before any tool is developed".

You proposal today actually has no immediate actionable goal for teachers. You should change that.

2) walk through Gunn and ask each teacher to sign a pledge for the 2008. Publish the names of supporters.

This sends a clear message that teachers want change.

Without their commitment, your proposal is going nowhere.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Dear Readers,

"Save the 2008" is on now Facebook:

Web Link


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)

Posted by Seems like 2010
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I wish the Save the 2008 best of luck, but this effort seems like an exercise in social media rather than anything else, and nothing really substantive, just like the folks who manned the railroad tracks back in 2010, including the security guards who pulled up chairs and spent the night texting. I appreciate the steps identified on the 2008 web site, but I have been unable to find a causal link between the supposed Gunn-specific issues and suicide.

Posted by Gunn Senior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 27, 2014 at 4:11 pm

The post made about how BioAC teachers at Gunn have been refusing to post class notes online is a fact.

This was one of the most disagreeable aspects of my Freshman year at Gunn. I asked Ms. Merchant why this was the policy and she stated that she didn't want students to stop paying attention in class. Seriously?!?? Her class was more quite than a library and every student there was dying to impress there parents with first semester grades. Every class I have taken since then has had all of the class materials posted online. If we follow her logic, there should be no more tutorial periods where you can questions and no solutions to homework packets because we have to be ready for a college environment. Just because there are enough students getting A's to impress the Instructional Supervisor doesn't mean that your job as a teacher has been achieved. Have compassion for Freshmen and stop making it more difficult for them to learn the materia and succeed in the class.
-A Gunn Senior

Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 27, 2014 at 10:06 pm

@Gunn Senior

I totally understand what you mean. You are not the first one to bring it up. It's great that you brought it up again, though. Quite a few teachers don't know what teaching is at Gunn. Sorry but true. No one at Gunn seems to care about those little things that give students hard time and eventually add up to explode. I brought it up to my daughter's counselor, but ignored. No teacher is brave enough to establish the system to check their works each other and improve. What I can not believe in this country is that teachers don't have to listen to the principal. If I say this, someone will say not to blame teachers, but parents or the culture. Then that's the end of the problem until another student dies. I wonder when we seriously investigate what's going on at Gunn.

Posted by Reform college admission
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 27, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Did not read this forum since I post one a few days ago. I think that I need to clear my previous post. I see some have comment of “reasonable college” in my previous post. I agree, I should say “top college”. For UC, the top 3 are Berkeley, ULCA, UCSD. Yes, all UC are good / reasonable college, but most parents in Palo Alto will try to aim at top colleges if their kids can reach it. There is a very fine line of parenting, you need to push you kids to try their best, especially those careless boys who only play games but not doing their homework. But a parent should pay close attention of your kid's limit, stop pushing when you notice your kids have tried hard enough. At that point, B is good enough, C is OK too. I used to have a neighbor, whose daughter (Gunn) studied so hard, often until 2-3 AM., but still only got B or C. They realized the problem, made a big move to another neighborhood town. In that high school, their daughter gets A and can go to bed before midnight. Gunn is a much harder school compare with other neighborhood high school. Please do not misread it, I do NOT mean that parent is the problem of teen's suicide, I think the grading system at Gunn also cause lots of stress. Here goes again, GPA is important in college admission, especially UC. If one does not think so, good luck to you to apply for top UC. Private colleges are better as for “low GPA”, especially out of CA private colleges. Just a note, I don't have kids in PAUSD anymore, but I do hope our school system can change to be a better one for current and future students. Some teachers in Gunn should learn how to be a real good teacher who truly care of every student in his/her class, help them if students fall behind instead of push them to low lane or ask parent to hire private tutor.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 28, 2014 at 9:10 am

Please make this a Palo Alto issue, not a Gunn issue.

The same practices take place in Paly all the time in some classes with some teachers.

Posted by Gunn alum parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 28, 2014 at 11:09 am

Merchant falsely believes she is "weeding out" students when actually she teaches freshman bio in high school. Her syllabus has no dates on it when anything is due it's just a list of topics and page numbers and no due dates. That's because she recycles her syllabus year after year, recycles her tests, recycles her homework. She doesn't post slides because she never changes anything and her teaching "style" encourages cheating.

Gunn is too big to have such a "sink or swim" mentality. Paly is also large but has features that make it warmer and more welcoming. It is less competitive, has more niches for students and has advisory. There are more than 60 adults involved in counseling and advising versus 8 at Gunn. You can say what you want, there is no way for the union reps at Gunn to transform 8 people into 60. Maybe someone will win the Sieman's prize figuring out that Rubik's cube. The Gunn union is vehemently opposed to limiting homework, limiting competition, improving counseling, or doing anything that would make life less competitive for Gunn students. The wealthy northside parents at Paly would never for a moment accept what the Gunn union reps are up to. Good luck to Gunn students. Hope the postvention works!

Posted by Gary Gechlik
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

With over 2,000 students, the school is too large. This has been looked at for many educational organizations, and for high school, the natural top size is 1,200 students. When you hit 2,000 students in a high school, the experience is impersonal. Palo Alto should have set aside funds decades ago for a new high school, instead of paying contractors they dislike to build a new library. These are just the facts.

You can blame the students, the curriculum, the stress, but the bottom line is that High School is about identity growth and hard work. The facilities carry the students. Of the four top High Schools in California, Gunn, Monta Vista, Saratoga, and Palo Alto High School, there are some differences. Monta Vista has the best consolidated setting, Saratoga the nicest community, Palo Alto the nicest building facility, and Gunn, the most anxious student culture. Outcomes are not that different, and these schools can be cross matched with North Eastern Schools in similar settings, like Milburn, NJ which demonstrate superior placement due to cultural expectations and differences.

But the bottom line, is that this is public school, and public schools has many benefits, but many constraints. While I live in Palo Alto, my home is in the open space on Skyline. Our home is subject to rural discrimination by the City through decades of neglect. That is simply how certain groups work. As a result, our children were assigned to the worst school in the area, we had to have the school shut down under the No Child Left Behind Act, and we are thankful that our children attend Saratoga schools.

When we look back decades later at these decisions, we will conclude what is obvious. Palo Alto during a certain period was so liberal, that it could not listen to reasonable moderates, and thus, despite the private success of certain corporate groups, the city lagged publicly. Whenever I go back to Stanford, I am met with a sense of reasonableness, social interest, and polite concern. Whenever I cross the El Camino to Palo Alto, I enter a world of liberal "dreams", "sister city programs", "green building" and all sorts of self policy promotions.

As per Gunn, you might want to start by expanding the facilities, building structures that are two or three stories, and asking how to improve the culture. I read about the math pathways for Gunn, and it is by selection of the teachers not the students. I simply don't agree with that. I agree with the traditional approach to high school, that students get choice.


Posted by Agree...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm


"No one ...seems to care about those little things that give students hard time and eventually add up to explode. "

That is because nobody is responsible for "those little things" that can make or break student outcomes. If it were an assembly line, nobody would allow the amount of waste from any one part of the process. Somebody would figure it out and say, hey we need to change this.

Time to change the little things -things like equitable and open information about old notes, old quizzes, old information, and the word "innovation" should not be used until some serious changes have happened.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Dear fellow PAonliners,

With the School Board meeting coming up next Tuesday, Dec. 9th, "Save the 2,008" wants to extend great encouragement to you, if you're one of those whose found something to like in even one of the initiative's "six simple steps to sanity at school," to come and say so to the Board members and the new Superintendent, Max McGee.

The meeting begins at 6:30 pm, at the District Offices (25 Churchill Avenue), and "Save the 2,008" is providing free Starbucks coffee and free Terun pizza, 5:45-6:30. Public comment is taken during Open Forum, which usually gets rolling around 7 pm; all you have to do is fill out a request-to-speak card, and you're granted up to three minutes.


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

I've created a survey for Paly and Gunn students to take so we can find out whether or not PAUSD's homework policy is being enforced:

Web Link

Paly & Gunn students, please complete the survey with full honesty. Others, please spread the word. If we can get 100-200 responses, we should know once and for all a) whether actual time spent on homework falls within PAUSD guidelines; and b) whether our schools are enforcing homework guidelines.

Posted by Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I think AP courses are chosen by students. If a student is struggling in a class, they can drop it without having it show up in their transcript a few months after school starts. Stop blaming the school and plan out your courses.

Posted by WebGirl
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:26 pm

As a former Gunn student I have to share my experience. I had grown up in a success driven family and that's why they selected Gunn for me because it was rated the best. Little did my parents know I never felt like I was seem as a person or able to interactively learn on a personal level. I learned to regurgitate information and make it through as a number trying to get numbers n grades in the system. I dreamed there was a fuller life out there. A few of my peers went off to do great things but a vast majority did not prevail from that enviroment. They were like plants with no light to grow. I can count over 150 people I know struggling from addiction, mental disorders, in and out of jail, or dead. Parents generally think adolescence is a hard time so they ignore the cries for help. I am so thankful someone is stepping up for the youth. I have been praying for a long time for these six steps. It would have saved me many years and many lost peers.

Posted by Agree....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2014 at 7:24 am


The school approves the schedule, and they are charged with advising students appropriately.

The school is to blame for how students plan their courses, including if a student has to drop a class.

It is harmful to undertake excessive work, and then it is harmful to have to drop a class.

For every "dropping" of a class there is a story that probably nobody at school pays attentions to. For example, what classes are most often dropped, which teachers, in which grade, what reasons (really, what reasons) and why did the student have the schedule he/she had to begin with.

The schools largely leave the decision to students and parents, and that is wrong, in my view. It skirts the work of advising. You should have counselors reviewing each and every schedule and raise alarms if necessary because of something they know (if they ever kept track) about the particular combination of classes, and teachers a student has.

Piling on work and dropping is not advisable. The schools should be held accountable for meticulous advising on schedules.

Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

@Agree - the counselors at Paly absolutely know which classes are dropped most often - you can tell by the expression on their face when a student comes in and says I want to drop "___ class" taught by "_____" teacher. But there really isn't anything they can do - remember tenure?

Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 25, 2014 at 11:21 pm

@Agree...: Don't blame the counselors - they can advise, but not everyone listens. Some insist on taking 5 APs per year. And in February, when students choose their schedules for the following year, the teachers are not yet assigned so the students can't choose their teachers (as they can in college). But the counselors should try to view the schedules and balance them so the student doesn't have a load of overly challenging teachers.

@paly parent: There is tenure, but there are political ways to make a person want to quit.

Posted by Agree...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2014 at 8:27 am

Having heard the groans or cheers when high school students find out who their teachers are just before school starts, it's pretty clear that teacher balance matters.

Setting teacher balance aside, and this is where the rubber meets the road - it is still the school allowing unlimited AP's. If the schools and counseling think it's too much to take 5+ APS', they cannot just say "they don't listen." If you can take as many as you can, it's because the school says you can. Why should the school allow you to do something they don't think is right? Getting parent permission is not good either. It makes it worse. You are getting permission to do something the school advises against? Why would the school let you do that?

If one has to choose (given the black box activity that sets student schedules), it would be pretty easy to just limit APs by some measure.

Colleges would be made aware that the maximum AP's a student could take in Palo Alto over 4 years is X. Colleges would look a the students within that context. Nothing would be held against any student for taking the maximum allowed. The people who would be squealing in pain about limiting AP's would need to come out publicly, and the district could advise them that if they want to take more AP's (than what the district offers as a maximum over 4 years), those families can use independent learning, over the summer, or however they want to do it.

I would actually also elevate the requirements to have everyone take a minimum of 1 AP over 4 years. I realize some people are opposed to AP's altogether but I think it's better than requiring all the rote requirements that are required (4 years of this, 4 years of that).

Posted by You Should Realize
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 26, 2014 at 10:05 am

There are plenty of people who look at Gunn and Paly as negatives when it comes to living in Palo Alto. More young families are choosing other towns to raise their kids in, specifically because of the high schools.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2014 at 1:36 pm

You should realize,

Many people see Gunn and Paly as positives to living in Palo Alto. I would.

The out of control imbalance that has resulted from the college application competition is alive and well in many other towns, and is rightly receiving a challenge in Palo Alto.

Everybody has so far had the opportunity to have their cake and eat it too - the colleges, the schools, the tutoring industry, the counseling industry, the blame privilege books.

Save the 2008 is refreshing. It looks at things from the students perspective.

Has there been any response from the district to the save the 2008 suggestions?

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 27, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Chris Zaharias,
Please contribute your results to this concurrent discussion about whether it is legal for schools to have unlimited discretion over people's time 24 hours a day: Web Link

There shouldn't just be a choice between a really intense program with a lot of homework and a lesser quality program. There is ample evidence that kids can have a challenging, interesting, less-stressful school experience and even get more out of the program academically, such as through project-based learning. Those kids should have the choice.

Maybe instead of just filling out a survey, we should encourage everyone to individually file a UCP complaint with the district, that (when they do nothing substantive) then goes to the California Department of Education.
Web Link
Imagine dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of complaints, that kids who want a high-quality education and a healthy home life have no choice of one in our schools.

There is still an ongoing discussion about the basis for such a complaint, but someone called Legal Eagle has made some good suggestions.

Posted by WebGirl
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 2, 2015 at 9:35 am

Has anyone seen the new movie Palo Alto?!! Wake up this isnt about whether to take two APS or three. People actually made a movie describing the norm for youth in Palo Alto. One of the major reasons this site was created is to create a healthier environment at Gunn. Get back to the basics. Its just gross we have now positioned security guards on our train tracks to prevent teenagers from jumping in front of them. I suggest watching the movie Palo Alto before you sign your kids up for school here.

Posted by lets stay on topic
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 2, 2015 at 3:09 pm

@You should realize

You're right - and I agree (and my kids are in private) - BUT - this is not discussion about pulling out of Gunn. If you would like to have a conversation about Gunn vs. other options I hope you will create a separate thread.

This is a discussion about making Gunn a healthier place. It's in everyone's best interest, whether they have children in Gunn or not, to support a more balanced academic culture in all of PAUSD schools. It's a compacted issue and welcome this important discussion. I'm thankful for the 2008 group.

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