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How to redesign PAUSD high schools

Original post made by Kiran Gaind, Juana Briones School, on Apr 29, 2015

There was a packed, sold-out house last night at Gunn High School’s Spangenburg Theater to view the Sundance- debuted film "Most Likely to Succeed" and a panel discussion afterwards with Max McGee, Sal Khan, Linda Darling Hammond, Ellen Wocjicki, Lazlo Bock and the director of the film. It was an inspiring evening offering hope to a community struggling to move forward from multiple suicides and doubts about our top-ranked schools’ true learning efficacy for our children.

I am a parent in Palo Alto as well as an experienced high school history teacher, school reform leader, district administrator, leadership coach, school turnaround consultant and parenting coach/educator with over 16 years of experience working in schools, with families and in educational communities both in low and high income areas in the Bay Area and in Austin, TX. I am passionate about creating environments in the home, neighborhoods and schools which support children and the adults caring for them to thrive. I believe we can be doing so much better in so many areas in Palo Alto to achieve our most coveted goals of supporting authentic success for all of our children, their families and our schools.

When I taught at Mission High School in San Francisco, we received a grant from the Gates Foundation to redesign our school into smaller learning communities. We received professional development from Stanford’s Redesign Network including a research trip to visit the model small schools in New York and extensive training in project-based learning design, portfolio assessment and the creation of a robust advisory system. Within four years of implementation of this school redesign, we tripled the number students being accepted to four year colleges. I then worked at a charter in East Oakland which was getting breakthrough results . The following year, I was hired to work on the high school redesign team for Austin Independent School District which was charged with redesigning all 14 of the district’s high schools to better meet the needs of their student populations. I returned to the Bay Area a year later to work for Partners in School Innovation, where I coached Principals in San Jose to achieve breakthrough turnaround results in their schools in one year’s time. I know what it takes to redesign schools and I have achieved results as a teacher, a teacher leader, a school reform consultant, and as a school leadership coach. Since becoming a mom, I started my own coaching practice for modern parents and facilitate transformations for families through the Connected Parenting and life design coaching services I offer in my private practice.

I believe there are 5 best practices all schools need to follow to redesign their cultures and their ultimate results to better serve students as they prepare to be authentically successful in the 21st century economy. I believe that if PAUSD’s high schools incorporate these 5 best practices into their day to day functioning, we will turnaround the school cultures in one year’s time, and fewer families will feel the need to leave this city in pursuit of better educational options for their children.


I.) PERSONALIZATION:
When I was part of the team that redesigned Mission High School the entire staff was trained on and the school was restructured to offer more PERSONALIZATION to students. The research behind this best practice shows that every adolescent will thrive at school if they have at least one adult there who knows them well. This means that the expectation of teachers and leaders in public schools is to have more personalized relationships with students. How do we achieve this? At Mission, we restructured our schedule and staffing so that every teacher and student was part of a smaller learning community made up of 5 core subject area teachers and 88 students. We taught daily on a block schedule of 100 minute class periods. We cross-planned curriculum and met weekly as a core team so we could track student progress and catch students who were starting to slip earlier on in the process. We started looping students to stay with the same team of core teachers for 2 years in a row. Each student had an advisor who would be with them for 2 years. That advisor got to know the students’ family, met regularly with students to discuss their academic progress and made a point to watch students when they had games, performances, etc. So the sense of CARE that the advisor has for the student not just in terms of their grades, but as a human being with varied interests and talents was really supported and followed through on with regular, strategic action. The culture of each team was established by the core set of teachers and practices agreed upon to support personalization. Teachers shared often with the group the pieces of learning they had about each student so that other teachers would get to know the student through their eyes. We created a family with our 88 kids and the sense of bond and team identity was filled with belonging, care, pride, enthusiasm, excellence and true friendship.



II.) PROJECT BASED LEARNING:
All kids, but adolescents especially, need to be highly engaged in their learning in order to remain interested, motivated and successful as learners and doers. Typical old fashioned, factory-model educational practices like standardized tests, textbook reading and such rote activities do not engage the hearts and minds of adolescents at a deep level and the information gathered by these means is often forgotten as soon as the test is over. To create lifelong learners who know how to pursue their curiosities and think creatively, PROECT BASED LEARNING is a best practice that is in my experience a requirement of successful schooling. I saw students change from complacent about school to fully passionate and confident about learning and their own academic skills through the implementation of project based learning when I taught at Mission High. In particular, I was able to partner with an organization who brought in film making equipment and laptops loaded with editing software to support my Modern World History students to write, storyboard, create, edit their own short films about pressing issues in their communities. One particular student who suffered from ADHD and often disengaged during more traditional learning activities turned out to be a film making super star who proudly exhibited his film at the student film festival we shared with parents. I believe students who are currently disengaged in Palo Alto high school classes due to overwhelm, overwork and underwhelm at the quality of their classes’ curriculum will turn around their level of enthusiasm, personal passion and power, engagement the moment our high schools implement Project Based Learning across the board. Teachers should be trained immediately in this form of learning so that our students can engage their passions and prepare for the 21st century . This form of learning cultivates creativity, collaboration and confidence in learners of all types.



III.) PERFORMANCE BASED ASSESSMENT:
What is measured is what is focused on. We all know this from various experiences in life and especially in the work place. If all our schools measure is superficial fact regurgitation through finals tests and standardized tests, what is the message we are sending about learning to our students? If we want students to develop depth and creativity, collaboration and confidence so that they are prepared for the fast paced changing world that awaits them, we must create assessments/measurements which foster and cultivate these qualities on a daily basis in all that students do. The best form of assessment that measures these types of qualities is called Performance Based Assessment. Instead of students demonstrating what they know through paper and pencil multiple choice tests, PERFORMANCE BASED ASSESSMENTS ask students to demonstrate their learning through a portfolio of their work, through an exhibition of a project, through a presentation in front of a panel of educators, students and parents. The demonstration of what was learned is more dynamic, requires creativity and collaboration and the skills that the real world workplace actually requires of people. In addition to project based learning, this would be the reform I would train all teachers and leaders to implement immediately in our schools to serve the 21st century needs of our students. It’s more fun for everyone involved. It requires more thought, more creativity, more collaboration on the part of the district and staff, but then that is a great opportunity for the adults in our schools to model the qualities we most want to cultivate in our students!






IV.) PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES:
When I worked for the Austin Independent School District in the Office of Redesign, I was a Project Manager for Professional Learning Communities, or PLC’s. PLC’s are learning communities created for teams of grade-level teachers to collaborate, reflect and improve on their teaching practices, as a team. Unlike one-shot professional development often provided by outside vendors at great expense, setting up PLC’s is a cost-effective, culture-shifting best practice that capitalizes and relies on the home-grown teaching excellence, expertise and best practices already being demonstrated by exceptional teachers on a teaching staff, and provides the perfect delivery model for those best practices to be distributed and taught to the rest of the grade level team, at no cost except for the creation of dedicated time for teacher teams to meet, share, reflect, practice and create together. If we created PLC’s across the board in our PAUSD high schools, teachers would feel like respected professionals, would be better supported to try new teaching practices that are project based, and would develop the ability to be in inquiry cycles together rather than relying on curriculum they have been using for decades with zero motivation to change.

V.) PRINCIPAL LEARNING WALKS AND WEEKLY NEWSLETTER SHARING
One of the first things I did as a Principal coach in San Jose was work with Principals to get up out of their offices and spend more time performing learning walks through classrooms observing actual teaching practices and student response to those practices and reporting the amazing best practices they saw with their staffs through weekly newsletters. When Principals take the time to be instructional leaders by spending time doing learning walks in all classrooms, they send the message that what teachers do in their classrooms everyday is highly valued by their leader. When principals note the best practices they see during their learning walks in a weekly newsletter to the teaching staff, teachers are motivated by the public sharing of the good teaching happening on campus. There is public awareness of what teachers do rather than closed doors, isolation and forgotten-ness. As we work to motivate our students to be their best creative and collaborative selves, as educational practitioners, we must incorporate these qualities into all that we do so that our school cultures shift to places of learning, openness, dialogue, experimentation, creativity, collaboration and eventual mastery of our craft.

Comments (68)

13 people like this
Posted by Great ideas
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 29, 2015 at 6:15 pm

You have landed on Mars...


6 people like this
Posted by make her an offer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for this post. My kids have experienced what you describe in pockets and have been happiest and engaged in learning when this occurrs. It is easier said than done and props to those who model this already. Keep at it!


4 people like this
Posted by How about us?
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Congratulations on congratulating yourself, but what about Briones? Tell us three ways our school can get back on track.


1 person likes this
Posted by parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 7:51 pm

I really like your categories, and core concepts. The devil is in the details though

Grading won't change unless the culture of testing is changed and until that happens having both types of grading (presentations, portfolio and testing), it's actually stress inducing.





15 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 8:13 pm

@ How about us?
No need to be rude and that wasn't what this is about, btw.
Briones is already doing very well! I say the teachers and leader should keep it up.


11 people like this
Posted by Promo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2015 at 8:47 pm

The concepts may or may not be valid, but this sounds like a promotional piece for Ms.Gaind's business. Google her and you'll see what she's about.


8 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 8:56 pm

@ promo
My business has nothing to do with schools, but is a parents' coaching practice. This post has nothing to do with that. It's simply a community service. You're welcome!


3 people like this
Posted by How about us?
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:27 pm

So the methodology is to simply assert teachers and leaders as very well and move on? Congratulations again!


6 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:32 pm

@ How About Us?
Juana Briones is a caring, nurturing school where
1.) students feel mostly safe (over 80% on recent survey)
2.) connected to at least one adult on campus (high scores on recent survey).
3.) teachers collaborate well to plan engaging curriculum and projects
4.) strong parent involvement

We could continue to improve
1.) some school events
2.) less test prep - push back on Common Core assessments
3.) teach mindulness skills

does this help?


15 people like this
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Well said! PAUSD would do itself a favor by hiring this brilliant woman!


17 people like this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Kiran,

THANK YOU for sharing your very experienced advice, free of charge! Many of us (hopefully most!) understand you shared your background and expertise with us so the yahoos on this forum did not confuse you with another opinionated parent.

The Connections program at JLS Middle School embodies your first three suggestions and partly your fourth. I also think Sharon Ofek is highly visible on campus and does observe in classrooms, but I don't know to what extent.

Please look at the Connections Program at JLS and help us get this implemented as the "mainstream" way to teach all grades in PAUSD! It's too good to be so restricted to the lucky few that hear about, apply and literally "win the lottery!"

Thank you again for your wonderful insight and advice!


4 people like this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:59 pm

@How about us and @Promo:

You are way off base. Stop biting the hand that is trying to feed you what you so desperately need.

As I said, The Connections Program at JLS is very close to what she is recommending, and it is growing in popularity because the kids love it and they learn so much. Check it out and jump on board with a very positive potential change in PAUSD!


2 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:03 pm

@ great ideas
Not sure what you mean by landed on MARS, but I'll take it as a compliment that I am thinking outside the box :-). I pride myself on doing so! The box of old school PAUSD practice is not one I want to be buried in, thank you very much...

@ concerned parent
Thank you for your vote of confidence.

@Exactly!
I have heard quite a bit about the Connections program and will look more into it. It's great that PAUSD already has a working model of this type of reform that it can replicate as a mainstream practice!


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

The bottom line is that most parents and students want the best opportunity to attend the college of their choice, and to do that they need good standardized test scores. Project based schools haven't performed as well on tests like the SAT. High Tech High average SAT is 446 points lower than Paly. So redesign college admissions, then realign high school education.


9 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:21 pm

@ slow down

Were you at the event last night? Lazlo BOck, Head of People at Google, shared Google's findings that SAT scores and attending an elite college have proven to mean NOTHING in the performance of Googleers. I repeat, those two measures do not indicate how successful someone will be in the new economy, when you use Google as an example of what skills and abilities it takes to design, code and succeed in the information era. He said that Google now does not look at SAT scores OR at the college a person went to. Their interview process does not emphasize those things at all. And the future of hiring is headed in this direction. Google sets the pace and the standards for the industry and the economy as a whole. That means all parents need to update their concepts and the importance they place on designer named colleges NOW. IT doesn't matter where our kids go to college anymore! What matters is that they choose a college that fits their abilites and where they can hone those abilites to be successful in whatever path they choose. Lazlo even said he would rather hire a top student from a state school than a middle of the road student from an Ivy League. HE SAID THAT! It's time for all parents around here to wake up and take note and change their attitudes and expectations about which colleges their kids need to attend, once and for all.


8 people like this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:30 pm

@Slow Down:

Are you sure "most parents and students want the best opportunity to attend the college of their choice?"

Personally, I want my kids to love learning, find their passion, enjoy their childhood, and go to a college where they feel comfortable and get a good education. Most of all, I don't ever want them to be so stressed out by high school that they consider suicide.

Perhaps eventually, when colleges realize that selecting only students with perfect GPAs and perfect SATs is not necessarily getting them perfect people who go on to do wonderful things in life, they will begin to rethink their selection process. Especially as mental illness becomes pervasive in their colleges and graduates.

I feel sorry for all the families that are buying into it as though it is the only chance at success in life.


2 people like this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:33 pm

Wow, I took a while writing my posts (with interruptions) and didn't even see Kiran's educated response before posting mine.

Thank you again, Kiran, for your badly needed insights.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Kiran Gaind - I was there, and you aren't getting his quotes exactly right, Nor is what Google does representative of the other 99.999% of employers in the country. He did say they no longer look at SAT scores, but he did not say they don't look at school or GPA. They still require you submit your college transcript if you've graduated in the last three years. They smartly don't care after you have areal work track record. Bottom line is that SAT matters for college, college matters for getting a job, even at Google.

This is Laszlo quoted in the NY Times, so you can see for yourself, "One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school."


5 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:52 pm

@ slow down

Thanks for giving those exact quotes. My purpose here is not to quibble with you or anyone over semantics and exact words. My point is simply to encourage parents to let go a bit of a preconceived idea of where our kids HAVE to go to college to be successful. It's their ability to think and create that matter most. Very few colleges teach the kinds of creative and design skills that will be demanded more and more in the future.


Like this comment
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:55 pm

@ exactly!

I'm so glad to have a likeminded parent like you in this community. Your reasonable, compassionate and caring stance about college sounds refreshing. Your child(ren) are lucky to have you on their side, supporting their health, wellbeing and happiness in a true and committed fashion. Awesome!


11 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 29, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Exactly - you can totally opt your kids out of the system if you think that's best for them. But for now, fair or not, the system is set up to reward the top students who go to the top colleges who get access to the diminishing pool of good jobs.

Note that every expert quoted in the movie was from MIT, Harvard, or Stanford. And the Panelists were a college tour de force as well: Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Yale, Dartmouth. Even Greg Whiteley, who "only" has an MFA, went to the prestigious Art Center. So for those people to claim college doesn't matter rings hollow.


7 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 29, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Kiran Gaind - I understand what you are saying, but totally disagree. Laszlo Block & Linda Darling-Hammond went to Yale, are they not creative? Sal Khan went to MIT and Harvard, but he is supposedly unprepared for today's job skills? The failure in American education isn't at the top, it is at the bottom where high school graduates can barely read or do addition.

I do want to see less stress and less workload for our high school students, but it is is absurd to claim Paly and Gunn students aren't well prepared for college or jobs. They are over prepared if anything. And if you question their creativity, their ability to think or design, I question how much interaction you've had with them.


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 29, 2015 at 11:18 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

sorry for the triple post - but one more for @Kiran Gaind - I like some of your ideas. More personalization. Some project based learning, lots of flexibility in schedule. But generally, project based learning is overrated. Keep it away from the core subjects.


3 people like this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 11:42 pm

@Slow Down:

I think you need to slow down (pun intended).

Opt my kids out of "the system?" To what "system" are you referring? Who defines "the system," exactly? I'll do you one better - I refuse to acknowledge a "system." I do see a super self-conscious set of parents that are terrified that if their kids don't graduate in the top of their class and go to the "top" schools they have no hope in life. Sorry, I'm not buying into that.

>> "diminishing pool of good jobs."

Huh? I guess we first have to define what a "good job" is, and then please tell me why you think they are diminishing.

>> "I do want to see less stress and less workload for our high school students, but it is is absurd to claim Paly and Gunn students aren't well prepared for college or jobs."

I'm sorry, who said Paly and Gunn students aren't well prepared for college or jobs?

And I know you directed this statement at Kiran, but I have to ask...

>> "But generally, project based learning is overrated. Keep it away from the core subjects."

Is that based on your previous (not cited source) saying something about a project-based school having lower SAT scores than Paly? Do you have some expertise to share here?

I know you say you want less stress in our schools, but I really think you need to slow down, and ask yourself some hard questions about what you really know, and what you've been led to believe by drinking the Palo Alto Kool-Aid.


20 people like this
Posted by Ugh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2015 at 12:16 am

Project-based learning? Is that where kids are paired up with slackers and end up doing all the work while the slackers ride off their hard work and get the same grade? Where they have to go along with mediocre ideas because they are outnumbered? No, thanks, the stakes for high GPAs are too high. Why? Speak to the college admissions officers.

If a love of learning is the goal, then ease-up on the grading and distribute more As and Bs. There can be no love of learning when the stakes are so high.

And if our children are attending large schools (vs. small, liberal arts schools), they need the practice of the traditional teaching.

Kiran improved schools which had less college-bound students than PAUSD. So in PAUSD, the equivalent would be to improve it so that more of our students are accepted into higher-ranked universities. Which would mean finding a way for most of the students to earn As. Right.


Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2015 at 1:25 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Exactly - You should try and see "Most Likely to Succeed" it will be eye opening. High Tech High is the project based school featured in the movie. Because it is a public charter school in California, all the same data as available as PAUSD schools.

Paly:
Web Link

Gunn:
Web Link

High Tech High:
Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2015 at 1:25 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Exactly - Why do I think opportunities are declining?

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

BTW, one thing High Tech high does right is hire teacher on one year contracts, with no tenure. So there is real accountability.


6 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 30, 2015 at 7:32 am

@ugh

Huh? Not sure what you are referencing in your comment about slackers and project based learning. That sounds like a misinformed stereotype to me. If you saw the film you would understand the potential of this type of learning. If you give projects to students at Gunn and Paly they will do amazing things with them. The point is that it's a learning task which asks students to use design thinking and develop original solutions. Exhibiting their projects teaches them important skills that are much more similar to the work world than what is needed to sit and take a paper and pencil test.

@slow down

What I said about students in PAUSD schools needing more creativity and real thinking stems from the insider look at what is happening at PAUSD high schools that was provided by Junior Whatmore when she wrote about her experiences in a Pa Online post several weeks ago. She described a mind-numbingly dry, rote and ridiculous academic experience that was not thoughtful or engaging for students.


1 person likes this
Posted by Concerned Neighbor
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 30, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Kiran: Thank you for addressing this vital topic with passion and compassion. PAUSD needs people with your insight. We must teach our children that there is much more to life than an Ivy League degree. Think about: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Richard Branson, John D. Rockefeller, or any of the other creative geniuses who never graduated from college.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 30, 2015 at 12:45 pm

@Ugh,

"Project-based learning? Is that where kids are paired up with slackers and end up doing all the work while the slackers ride off their hard work and get the same grade? Where they have to go along with mediocre ideas because they are outnumbered? No, thanks, the stakes for high GPAs are too high. Why? Speak to the college admissions officers."

Absolutely not. You are confusing projects assigned in a bad educational system with project-based learning. PBL is designed to solve the problems you express. You should see the movie if you can, it addresses many of your concerns. Or read Esther Wojcicki's book.

Connections is a really great start, but it needs to be expanded, and the program itself needs to be continued beyond 6th grade. Right now, it tapers off so that only English and Social studies are project-based in 7th and 8th, and in 7th, I couldn't really detect any of the whole child project-based approach for the program that was so great in 6th. Many parents told us to hold on until 8th, that it got better because of ROPES, but ROPES is really mostly done after school as homework and until the tragedies, honestly there was so much traditional homework it made things really hard. The overall program itself is not PBL anymore, though interestingly the best classes that way were the electives. Fabulous electives at JLS -- Industrial Tech, Video Production, Drama, etc.

There really needs to be a ground up approach to providing PBL at the high school level, what we have is really too incompatible. It shouldn't replace the existing system, but be a choice. Once parents can see their kids accomplishing really cool things, less stressed, and still getting good test scores and getting into good colleges, then having choice may change things more profoundly than if it is studied to death and then imposed by fiat (won't work).


4 people like this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2015 at 1:25 pm

An idea:

Maybe those of us in favor of PBL should meet and organize to get this moving. I have to think that current and past Connections families would be supportive.

I would LOVE to see this continued in high school and as @Parent says, it needs to be expanded and closer to what it is in 6th grade.


6 people like this
Posted by Michelle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 30, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Hi Kiran - there were a lot of parents at the movie who agree with you (myself included). I wonder how they could be gathered to implement some of these ideas into PAUSD. Currently, there is one program at Paly that combines history and English (I think). It is an attempt to do more combined and innovative learning.

Have you met with Dr. Mgee about this? I think he is agreeable and would be open to specific ideas.

Thanks,

Michelle de Blank


10 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2015 at 6:53 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

Ugh is right - even in the movie which was glamorizing project based learning, you saw one kid totally monopolize the gear project. I'm sure he learned a lot, but not sure about the rest of his team.


3 people like this
Posted by How about us?
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 30, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Congratulations! This doesn't help our school. Looks like you've thrown in a couple of wild assertions with a smidgen of survey responses. Teachers collaborate well? Not quite. As for "some school events," that's a bit non-specific, isn't it?


1 person likes this
Posted by Elena
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 30, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I am convinced that personalization works wonders. I come from a school system in Europe that also had students grouped into smaller learning communities made up of 30-40 students and one curator teacher. Sort of like in Hogswarth: Griffindor, Huffenpuff, etc. Students were NOT grouped by abilities and they were taking different level classes but they had to take some classes together and there were activities that jelled them together. They stayed in these "communities" throughout high school and developed so strong relationships that they treat each other as family years after graduation.



2 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 30, 2015 at 10:07 pm

@ Michelle

I do plan to meet with the Superintendent, soon. And @exactly! and anyone else, let me talk to the Superintendent and perhaps Esther Wicjicki to see if we could create a community committee in response or if they are already planning something at the district level. If so, great, we can all get involved. If not, we can propose and suggest and get this going together. I love the enthusiasm and desire for change!

My email is kiranfionagaind@gmail.com If you would like to get more involved, please send me your email and I will compile by next week.

Thanks, all!


6 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 30, 2015 at 11:11 pm

@all about us

Then why don't YOU provide some ideas instead of your empty criticism? We're all ears!


2 people like this
Posted by contributor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 10:35 am

@ Elena

"Students were NOT grouped by abilities and they were taking different level classes but they had to take some classes together and there were activities that jelled them together. They stayed in these "communities" throughout high school and developed so strong relationships that they treat each other as family years after graduation."

What a good model. Palo Alto parents would never allow such a thing. They do so much friend engineering starting in preschool that the kids never even want to be acquaintances with those in lower level classes. There are exceptions but once high school starts the peer pressure knocks those friendships over the cliff.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 1, 2015 at 11:31 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Contributor - it is worth noting that pretty much every country that outperforms the US in education has some sort of tracking, usually with some sort of standardized test, or a vocational school option. That's true of Europe (Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, UK) and Asia (Singapore, Japan, Korea).

@Elena - Where did you attend school in Europe?


1 person likes this
Posted by EXACTLY!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

@Slow Down,

I don't think @Elena is saying that students were not laned by level or ability in many classes, I think she is saying that the "cohorts" were not formed by level or ability.

She said the cohorts "...were taking different level classes but they had to take some classes together and there were activities that jelled them together."

So imagine they took math and science in classes appropriate to their ability and level, but took other classes that were more general together.

Of course, here in Palo Alto we seem to lane every subject, so that might be hard to fully implement here. Perhaps in Europe there are general subjects, like social studies or arts, that are not laned. Maybe they can at least take PE together (Oh wait, that wouldn't work for the athletes..."

I do agree with the cohort concept and believe that environment would build stronger bonds between kids and therefore a stronger sense of belonging for all students. I'd love to see it offered as an option at least. Kids could opt in to take "regular" classes in some subjects, like social studies and history, rather than honors and AP everything, and take those classes with their cohort.


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Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on May 1, 2015 at 1:47 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

Love this post. Project-based learning FTW :)

After all, it is through projects that kids TRULY see how things work. It's only by designing some very simple machine that performs some very simple task that they learn... nothing's ever as simple as it seems. It's how they learn about failure, iteration, prototyping, risk-taking, creativity, curiosity and so, so many other skills that are important in the digital age.

A lot of the most talents kids I knew at Stanford either worked a lot on PBL, or did their own, independent projects at home. You could tell within 5 minutes of talking to them that they didn't think like the other students. I like to refer people back to this wonderful post, "APs Make You Look Complacent, Not Curious." ( Web Link ) The TL;DR is that no kid EVER is going to stand out to college admissions officers or employers because they had good grades and lots of APs. The way to stand out is by playing to your strengths and doing something truly unique and interesting.

As a psychologist, though, I might suggest rephrasing the "performance-based assessment." Because the first thing that comes to mind when I read that is Carol Dweck's research on "learning" vs. "performance" goals. I would call it something like "process-based assessment," "contribution-based assessment" (if you can't come up with the best design, you can still come up with great questions or figure out the best way that YOU can contribute), "improvement-based assessment," etc. Or maybe "creativity-based assessment."


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Thank you, Kiran and others for finally separating concepts of curricular reform from the particular demands and complaints of this political campaign. It has been hard to tell the static from the signal when it comes to consideration of extending a project-based learning approach to the high schools as part of a series of steps that could be taken, should the community choose, to reduce student stress.

It is important to do this right, which will take time, planning, resources, and support from the community, including those who would not place their own child in such a program, for including this as an option at the secondary school level. Empirical results from early, partial efforts within the district could guide how fast and how far to expand the program.


1 person likes this
Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm

This is not new. It is related to Open Classroom which later became Cooperative Learning and has had various versions and names over the last 40 plus years.

Project based learning can be very good -- it depends on how well the teacher runs the program. But it often ends up weak -- my child in 10th grade US history at Gunn was making dioramas and his cooperative group thought it was a joke. In math there was emphasis on "talking" math and much time wasted on deciding what to do in the group learning.

Not all traditional methods of learning are bad, that's my point. It depends on how they are done and probably a combination of both traditional learning and project based learning are best.

But these are not new methods and have been around for decades.


4 people like this
Posted by Big hairy question
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Do "the schools" (PAUSD) want to be redesigned?

I do appreciate the energy and optimisim of the original poster and all the other community members - truly. I love the ideas (have loved them for decades and have done my time to bring in similar sounding efforts with the same experts) whether for improved learning environments or to reduce unnecessary stress on burdened teens (or both).

Maybe this is the year it will finally catch? One can hope. But without a "yes" answer from the school leaders themselves to this big hairy question, these ideas will likely remain as ideas.

Paly & Gunn, original/charter members of Challenge Success (in the early 2000s - and where exciting reforms like these are supported) have both re-upped their involvement for the coming school year. Good news or same-old, same-old? We shall see.

The bottom line is - "the schools" need to want these reforms. They must overcome what I believe has held back great ideas in past efforts - a fear of messing with "the equation" (the equation of PAUSD students currently doing well on SATs, APs, etc. and college admissions to top universities).

Did we hire forward-thinking educational leaders that believe in the creative & intellectual abilities of Palo Alto students and new frameworks for learning? Or those who don't see a need (or worry that new structures and frameworks could mean losing ground - scores, acceptances, etc.?)

I applaud the next generation of parents' efforts and idealism. Maybe this will be the year? I - still - hope so!


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 5:03 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
[Portion removed.] Do you see what Big Hairy Question wrote? Many of us have been at this for YEARS. The 1500+ parents didn't just show up on a Tuesday night to watch an ed film in a vacuum. [Portion removed.] The "it takes time" thing is how the district people get away with not doing anything. It's why the whole MI thing became so contentious. The district wasn't willing to be honest about where they stood so instead they ran the people asking on wild good chases for 5 years until they finally got fed up (though usually it wears people down and they go away). If things had been honest, the community could have worked on problems together, in dialog, from the start.

So it is with PBL, which has been a quest since Ohlone was founded. Parents can either read the tea leaves and go right for the charter, or wait while people with no respect for their time or their children's needs to try to wear them down. That is, unless McGee gets the message and makes some much needed staff changes. And makes a public announcement of how he will be working on restoring trust.

Kiran is new in this district. I had to look at the post for the date, it's deja vu all over again.


@Big Hairy Question,

It seems clear that no one at the district office is going to lead. McGee was the only one of the panel whose answer really skirted bringing PBL to the district. He dangled outside research for a few elite upperclassmen -- leaving everything else pretty much unaddressed. Getting any consensus when it comes to innovation will never happen if it is overlaid on the traditional program. There were a number of parents asking what could be done, and McGee put them off until June -- which is the usual song and dance, because all the administrators disappear in June. Then nothing can happen before the next school year. Then it's one thing or other and pretty soon, another year is gone and you've had to deal with another horrendous gauntlet of a year....

No, the district will have to be willing to let some families be lead users -- people willing to step out and take chances. That doesn't take time, it take commitment and honesty. It doesn't even necessarily have to take much in the way of resources, given blended learning options. The trouble is, that takes things like dialog, trust, communication, all things for which this district gets an F, if I'm being generous. That's not some state of being, it comes down to certain people we don't seem to be able to get rid of.

We need a program around a community of innovation. Teachers and families together willing to innovate together. It could happen immediately. There are charter structures we could use. Other ways of doing it that we already avail ourselves of. State ed code and even our own district regs are quite permissive.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 1, 2015 at 5:50 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 1, 2015 at 5:55 pm

[Post removed.]




2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 1, 2015 at 6:27 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 1, 2015 at 6:37 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 1, 2015 at 7:06 pm

Getting back to the conversation about redesigning our high schools.

Kiran, a lot of us would like to see the changes you describe by next year. I know a lot of parents who are willing to go completely to something else, designed from the ground up like the High Tech High in the movie -- teachers and parents (if the movie poll was correct, a LOT of parents) -- without any expectation of the district ensuring A-G requirements, etc. You have time on your side, but the families who attended that meeting have kids in high school and just entering high school now.

We've been talking to McGee all year about innovating in ways just like you have suggested. We don't have any Larry Page's or Job's among us, so his wonderful openness about it comes across as window dressing as he is then undermined by his staff and every lead is blocked. I don't think he wants that, but I don't think he understands how much he really needs staff around him who can support him and the parent community instead of working against them behind their backs.

If you want to change things when change is hard, you have to make a path. In this district, for those who want something soon, it's probably through a charter school.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent from Film
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Unless there are meaningful homework restrictions (which means, Teachers are actually required to follow homework standards) none of this means anything.

The problem is too much homework given by teachers who simply pile it on. The district of course will ignore this because, they have no way to stop the teachers from dumping.

We need a website to publicly shame teachers who abuse the system. Oh, and by the way, the district CANNOT be involved at all, because they are masters at subverting any effort to control them.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 1, 2015 at 8:31 pm

@Parent from Film,
I agree about the homework, but I think trying to control homework is a Sysiphean task (however that's spelled!) Times have changed and we should be considering how to give kids an education without considering their time after school as a slush fund for the school day. A common theme I hear from gifted famiily homeschoolers is that the usual school program only takes about 2 hours a day, and then the kids are done to do much more advanced or fun stuff the rest of the day. Why can't we have that in the school program, at least for those wanting to try?


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Posted by HR
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 1, 2015 at 8:48 pm

Kiran,
Thank you for opening yourself up as a target for those who are disgruntled. There were a couple items that caught my attention. I was wondering how many students were accepted to 4 year schools before hand? Were any counselors hired or advisors to help guide in the application process? How many of those accepted, actually attended? Also, what was the ratio of teachers to students and how much grant money was needed to make this change possible?
Thanks.


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Posted by sounddog
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2015 at 9:29 pm

sounddog is a registered user.

Thanks Kiran for sharing your thoughts as an educator, mom, and community member. As a newcomer to Palo Alto the passion of this town around education and wish for what is best for 'our' individual and community of children is clear. These suggestions highlight some of the current best practices for student engagement and teens from any background could benefit. If is unfortunate that so many non-student focused pressures (competition, inertia, resources, etc.) take precedence over the importance of the education system continually evolving to best serve our kids.


7 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Paly Alum is a registered user.

@Parent from Film: There is a website for teacher reviews and it's basically accurate. I encourage others to write reviews since the school district doesn't care about how good or bad their teachers are: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2015 at 10:32 pm


Paly alum,

Great site, rate your teachers.

this was one of the funniest posts but there are many....

"no longer works at Paly she's now the queen of England"

And this teacher is one of the panelists and possibly the queen of project learning as well....

Spends time on her phone DURING CLASS

Sadly, there is nothing anyone can do about this.


4 people like this
Posted by Entering Paly
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Hi Paly Alum, and parent2,

The website you reference has been very helpful to us at Jordan. Planning to enter this fall at Paly once we receive the list of assigned teachers, we'll do the same. It is the luck of the straw, and the few/one per grade/subject that should retire and move on to another career is the issue, And, by the way this has been the unusual. Our experience one in three years. IF is happens, its disappointing and discouraging to your child, you need to pick them up and let them read this site. Therefore, please use this sight. It's help us define what science means in middle school with a teacher who likes colors and titles, a teacher who prefers peer review for English writing (hope you get a peer that is educated as well as a middle school teacher). For any teachers reading this, please review your online evaluations, its the ONLY eval you receive! For parents, take the reviews with knowledge that the few lows are most likely a abberation. Look at any trend, learn from it, borrow notebooks and what you need from upper classmates to help your child. This is not a learning experience from these few teachers. This is a work around to make sure your child stays intact with the peers who got the lucky straw.


3 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Big Hairy Question

You're right on target.

Unless the group of parents who intend to pursue major curricular reform come together on a common platform there is no hope for success. Following the education threads, I see no such common front. Similarities, yes, especially in what people dislike about the current system, but where is the overall program platform?

My daughter has been working in Oakland for three years starting a Reggio Amelia-inspired dual immersion pre-school and elementary school, laying a base for a K-5 charter petition to be filed this spring for a decision that would launch the charter school in August, 2016. Starting a charter school takes time and planning and evidence that you can deliver on what you promise in the charter. She may not succeed, but she is acting on her firmly held belief that engaged activity and a caring school community are keys to a good education.

I can't imagine how a secondary school charter could be successfully launched in Palo Alto in time for the 2015-16 school year. But I do see a charter as one avenue to explore.


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Posted by Lola
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Thank you Kiran for sharing your thoughts and expertise. PBL, personalization and some of your other suggestions resonate with me. It would be great to have you provide more guidance as we work with our new leader at the district.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 2, 2015 at 1:09 am

It has been my experience that these sentiments have been expressed for many years in this district. In elementary school, it always seemed like there was a spectrum of learning styles, and the school -- Juana Briones -- did a great job always of having teachers who were better at each end of the spectrum. This spectrum idea seems in practice to really get phased out in middle school, and it catches many parents by surprise.

It has also been my experience that the culture in the district office because of a few key employees is like a brick wall. The reform ideas are not new. McGee cannot do everything himself.

Perhaps a secondary charter school cannot be launched by 2015-16. Perhaps it can. Many hands make light work -- since you are retired Jerry, perhaps you might consider offering your time to help? Are there existing charters or countywide charters that could be enlisted in the meantime? (There is a project-based technical program up north that was looking for a home next year, actually, I wonder what happened with that?)

The district can launch any number of initiatives, schools within schools, that could be separated from the main school's performance if the district is worried. The district could use the independent study rules and let families incorporate blended learning options. There are online learning communities already trialing and reviewing the various blended learning options. McGee spoke of making freshman year non-graded, something that helps focus kids on learning so long as opportunities are good rather than on their grades.

It really comes down to commitment at this point, because our regulations are quite permissive, at the state level too. The DoE leaves a lot of discretion up to districts.


4 people like this
Posted by Kiran Gaind
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 2, 2015 at 7:36 am

Thank you everyone for your comments. I see the need for further discussion and collaboration among us. I know how idealistic I sound and how new I am around here so reading more about the history and reality of creating this type of change in PAUSD is really helpful.

@Emmab I agree performance-based assessment isn't the best term. Perhaps Portfolio-based assessment or Exhibition-based assessment are better or one of the ones you suggested...

@Jerry Underdal I'd love to meet with you to discuss. Your daughter's charter sounds wonderful. Can you email me at kiranfionagaind@gmail.com? We can meet and talk if you're open to it and plan some ways to get more organized around these community needs.

@lola thanks. As I mentioned earlier I'd love to meet with the Superintendent - it would be an honor and I'd love to take on a role of supporting this type of work in the district.

There are many other posters I didn't mention specifically right now - thank you for your engagement with this topic and your thoughtfulness and commitment to our children and schools....


4 people like this
Posted by Rate my teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 2, 2015 at 10:16 am

Yeah, that's a really great site. I went there and counted at least half a dozen teachers who have retired, several who have moved to other school districts, probably three or four who moved on to bigger and better things altogether years ago, and a couple who are dead.

So there's that. Nice up-to-date info there. If we could just integrate it with Schoology, we'd be in great shape.


1 person likes this
Posted by parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2015 at 10:47 am

Rate my teacher,

Rate my teachers is actually brilliant and honest.

I wish we had a way of making ALL Paly and Gunn students post a rating.

If you happen to see a dead or retired teacher on your schedule this Fall, at least you will know!

And why they may not want to use Schoology or any consistent information system.


16 people like this
Posted by What about us?
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 2, 2015 at 11:08 am

Kiran's [portion removed] remarks aside, I have been asked for my ideas, it's a Town Square, so why not? Do know that I have voted No on the parcel tax increase, so make sure you don't read below if viewpoints other than yours or those that you agree with easily anger or offend you. On to my five-point plan to fix all schools in PAUSD, in no particular order:

1. Vote no on the parcel tax. It doesn't affect students in any way. I'm pretty sure the all of us Palo Altans with our advanced degrees and expensive homes know that the threat that we will have to balloon classroom sizes and layoff 80 or so teachers is empty. The board would only vote to do that if the public threatened to not renew the parcel tax in 2016. That is what they are worried about. Then there is the property value argument. Way to care about kids! Act on what benefits students, not your property value. I am overjoyed that my house is worth so much more than when I bought it, but each time a student kills himself, I am ashamed of myself as a member of the community.

2. Support the elimination of zero period. That was one bold move by Max McGee, pretty much the only one, but it is a start. Those who cried foul and those who simply cried reminded me of cliched movie scenes in which Texas high school football programs are threatened. Academics are great, nerd humble-brags not so much, but that extra AP doesn't make the difference.

3. Vote the school board out. Remember the poster who mocked the Town Square when folks wanted Kevin Skelly and the board out in 2012? He dared us to find someone better. Planned, purposeful turnover is not a bad thing, the chaotic fleeing of our administrators during the Skelly era damaged PAUSD and the brand. Having Ken Dauber on the board and not robotically agreeing with every Kool-Aid-induced vote has infused some necessary debate and democracy. Terry Godfrey? She's from PIE, you should not have expected anything different than what you are seeing. Heidi Emberling? I've been waiting for any post of one accomplishment. Melissa Caswell and Camille Townsend should simply not be on the board. Honorable folks would have resigned in shame long ago. Vote them out and you will have needed change. Won't be fast, though, because it's a school system.

4. Standardize two or three powerful instructional practices, with firm support from that new board which has heard a resounding no on the parcel tax, in order to put PAEA in its place, which is out of the coal mines and into the atmosphere of the professional organization that focuses on students first. That's a lot to take in, isn't it? PBL is a possibility except that in PAUSD it morphs into the teacher assigning the project and letting the tutor handle the difficult child. Teachers from preschool to high school have to balance their whole-class lesson with individual instruction, that means each student. I can hear the PAEA howling right now about class size, standardized assessments, and of course the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which roughly translates to good luck telling me what I have to do. That's where a strong superintendent and school board can withstand PAEA's threats of working to rule, low morale (when has there ever been a school year in which PAEA did not complain about low morale, seriously, when?) and losing our best teachers to the high-paying distrticts that exist in fantasyland or that one district in New Jersey that a poster always compares us with. PAEA, and I mean the exposed awful parts of PAEA, are a major obstacle to what is best for students, but if parents vote in new board leadership and vote out the parcel tax, then the parent power will exist to have the instructional leaders--that means principals!--put their careers on the line and provide students with PBL or any other instructional strategies that will help all students achieve, because if and when they do, PAEA will start doing their behind-the-scenes threats and effectively remove them. You do remember the alleged Gunn vote of no-confidence, right?

5. Listen to your common sense, don't listen to this drivel (except only the previous 10 words!) or to the self-serving puff-piece that Kiran has written. There's nothing in the latter except a few buzz acronyms. PBL and PLCs are awesome, but in PAUSD, they are like the plan that boxers had during Mike Tyson's heyday ("Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face."). What are you going to do when a teacher says no? And the Weekly's public records request revealed that teachers say no to the darnedest things.


2 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 2, 2015 at 11:38 am

These are not new ideas. The schools could just follow state standards and fair testing policies. All free! I think the biggest problem is that this is a very simple obvious way to support our students, but so many want to get credit and seem super smart in saying the same thing that is so obvious to most people, especially the students. Follow standards and be nice- because it is a public school, everyone should have all the same opportunities. ( this las one bothers the elite parents who use words like slacker and who have been enjoying being able to pump up their kid's grades with money for tutors, advanced research and extra classes outside school)

So, follow standards and be nice and treat every kid equally. Just to be clear, this will not help everything, but it sure would make all the student's daily life more bearable. Why their needs to be a year of discussion over taking the burden off kids while time is flying by and still slapping most kids in the face while they watch these insipid discussions is just really sad. Is the english teacher the same one they made fun of in the New York times for bragging about the few. Is it the same teacher Gunn high school condemed for her comments about suicide. Could this be just another way palo alto is trying to brag about how super elite and great they are? do I really care

why not just use the ca dept of educational code and standards. just too fancy. pride comes before a fall and after too I guess.


2 people like this
Posted by graduated GUNN '87
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 2, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Your 5 Rules do not address the PARENTS. Sure, the schools create a lot of pressure, but how the kids respond to that is based on what happens at home. How they feel about themselves, their lives, and their prospects, is based on what happens in the home.

The parents are the problem.


6 people like this
Posted by Skeptic
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2015 at 2:13 pm

"How they feel about themselves, their lives, and their prospects, is based on what happens in the home."

There is absolutely no evidence for this idea, but it does effectively shift responsibility.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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