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Original post made
by SW, Midtown,
on Apr 23, 2013
Although it is hard to tell just from the public information, it appears that the gap between majority and minority performance is the reason for Palo Alto's poor showing in the US News Rankings. While US News Rankings are not the be-all/end-all and should often be ignored, in this case they are giving relevant information to the district. The fact that the district has high test scores is insufficient to earn it a high ranking where those high test scores reflect only the performance of majority and upper class students. The real test of a school's effectiveness is not how well the students who have advantages will perform but how those without advantage do, and what the relative gap is between those at the top and others.
PAUSD is well aware of these issues and Kevin Skelly has done a good job making them a high priority. However, where issues have arisen in this regard, as with the dreadful and embarrassing Paly Math Letter he utterly failed to hold those teachers to account. That letter argued that poor and black and brown students should not take Alg. 2 as required by A-G readiness because they could not complete it, and requiring them to do so would "water down" the curriculum for our high-achieving kids. Radu Toma, the Paly Math IS who drafted the letter is still the IS. That is unacceptable and embarrassing to all of us, and is a big part of why our schools are not even on the list of Top 100 CA schools.
Greater accountability for racially insensitive teachers such as the signatories of the Paly math letter would have assisted us in the goal of raising our rankings, as well as the more important goal of raising minority achievement.
PAUSD has a long-standing "born on third, thought it hit a triple" attitude. The schools that are high ranked are those that value success for all rather than just for the already-successful. If we can't lift all boats, we can't succeed in the modern world which is a diverse world.
I just read the Paly math teacher's letter at
and I'm not sure why you'd describe it as "dreadful and embarrassing".
Sure, in an ideal world, everyone would be an "A" student and every high school student would get a 5 on the Calculus BC AP exam. What the teacher is saying in the letter is that the reality is that in a school as big and diverse as Paly, not all students excel in math.
Have you yourself tried teaching math to the same diverse group of students that our teachers work with? I know I haven't, and because I haven't, I'm willing to accept that maybe our teachers might know a little more about teaching our kids than I do. They've spent hundreds of hours working with our students, which I suspect is considerably more than either of us have. Don't you think it's possible that their observations might be a little more accurate than ours?
It's easy to be an armchair critic, but let's not be so quick to denigrate those who are actually doing the demanding work of teaching high school in our district.
@ Michele Dauber
Regarding the letter from the Paly Math Dept, it never said "that poor and black and brown students should not take Alg. 2" as you claim. This is a gross distortion. It only argues that students should not be forced to take this class for graduation, as some students don't have the ability or motivation to succeed in that class. It argues that such a requirement will lead to reduced graduation rates, or force a watering down of the class so that most or all students can pass it and graduate. I find this a convincing argument.
Regarding the ranking of our high schools, it is not only the achievement gap that accounts for their lower ranking. Look at the details.
Take high ranked Lowell in SF, in the US News rankings. Lowell also has a gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, albeit smaller, granted. Another difference between Lowell and Paly, accounts for the large ranking gap between the two schools. It is the number of students taking AP exams: the participation rate is 93% at Lowell and... 67% at Paly.
Well, as far as I know, the Dauber's WCDB PA and their friends are the ones who have been clamoring against high lane classes and even, in some cases, asking for the elimination of AP classes in Palo Alto high schools. That's a good recipe for sinking our schools ranking. I've always been convinced that WCDB is out to destroy our schools' excellence. This piece of news on rankings convinces me some more.
Well, SW, you have your answer as to why PAUSD has slipped in the rankings. Take it up with the Paly Math Department, and Phil Winston.
Paly and Gunn are listed as "Unranked" so they did not participate this year: Web Link
This is fine news to me. The families who want the high rankings can go to Mission San Jose, Saratoga, Lowell, Monta Vista, etc. I'm tired of us being a magnet for the schools only; Palo Alto offers so much more than schools.
WCDB: Truth is, PAUSD is not too rigorous if a student takes regular lane classes. The insanity begins with the Honors and AP classes. If a child lives in Palo Alto, academics in regular lanes are doable (yes, I am being PC here).
@ Michele Dauber,
Speaking of disadvantaged students, through my years of volunteering in elementary schools and my discussions with staff close to disadvantaged students at the high school level, I have come to a personal conclusion that discussions are focusing on the wrong level. By the time they reach high school, many of the underperforming disadvantaged students are so far behind that it's incredibly difficult for them to catch up, and incredibly difficult to help them catch up.
The focus should be on earlier years. There should be heavy duty intervention and help for these students starting in elementary schools and this is just not happening.
Just my view, and definitely not a professional opinion.
Paly and Gunn might have been inadvertently left off the list.
Look at their API and College-Readiness Numbers:
Paly (900 and 65)
Gunn (910 and 71.2)
Paly should fall somewhere around 156th US ranked Palos Verdes (898 and 66) and Gunn should fall around 131st ranked Campolindo (923 and 69). The schools have almost identical AP participation and pass rates.
If our schools fell off of the US News grid because of STAR scores of disadvantaged students, that was an anomaly:
Weekly last year "Palo Alto students narrow achievement gap..a particular focus on raising achievement among underrepresented minorities appears to be paying off."
Maybe I'm out of touch, but don't schools have a purpose other than stoking booster ego? Like, maybe, educating students?
It is evident that Paly and Gunn did not fall off the school rankings list. The US News Best High Schools 2013 awarded 500 schools gold medals, 1,790 were awarded silver and 2,515 earned bronze . Whether our education is dropping or not, it is not at all likely that our two high schools dropped from the top 100 to failing to make the top 4,000. Much more likely would be the fact that both Gunn and Paly did not participate in the rankings this year (especially since neither PAUSD school was ranked).
Yes there must be some mistake. Either we didn't enter or we were inadvertently dropped. There is no way we wouldn't actually be in the top if it was fair. I am sure of it. As Mandy Lowell told the Post "people don't move here for the view." And that's our story and we are impervious to "facts" or "information"."
maybe the principals "forgot" to send in the information again... This is not the first time this has happened at Paly. Maybe it is someone else's fault...
Rrright, the old "blame the principal" game! We are so fortunate to have such a productive principal who has improved Paly and continues to improve Paly each year. Colleges know the reputation of our schools and they receive the School Profile with the college applications. Why do people feel the need to brag about our schools with a national magazine ranking? Palo Alto is all about modesty.
More likely - PAUSD probably intentionally did not enter the schools, because of the inevitable comparisons between Gunn and Paly created. Those results would point out dis-parity between the two schools (real or percieved), which only results in all the chicken littles running around screaming about the lack of fairness/level playing field between the two schools - all much fairer and less dramatic if we minimize the calling out of differences. That is - until one of the schools wins a lopsided football game.
The "lopsided football games" are halted for two years due to lack of competition for Paly: Web Link Web Link
Wow, people sure jump to conclusions around here. The US News rankings have always been pretty lame, so I'm glad Palo Alto decided not to play ball this year.
I do wonder at Ms. Dauber's massive jumping to conclusions. I haven't really had an opinion of her group, but if this is an example of how WCDB works, I'm not impressed. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Once again, one of the more logical comments made was by a student--i.e. that it's extremely unlikely that PA schools dropped down so far that they're no longer in the top 4,000 schools.
I'm with So What?--the score obsessed can buy elsewhere. Plenty of us know that there's a lot more to an education and a school than that.
I didn't call the letter "blatently racist " I called it racially insensitive which it is. I also called it an embarrassment which it is, to all thinking people. You can't rewrite history. Kevin apologized for the letter. He didn't do that because it was super awesome and wonderful. It's because it was racially insensitive and an embarrassment.
Also I called it "dreadful" which it also is. We need a math program which gets all students a-g ready period the end. That's what the schools that are highly ranked are doing. That's what our strategic plan does. What we currently have is a lopsided system that over prepares and stresses out the advantaged while leaving disadvantaged kids unprepared for college and bullying the disabled. We have to have public schools that work for all. That's the law.
I don't understand why we have social promotion in our schools especially after grade 2 or so. Just think about it, kids who fall behind will never catch up and in fact will just be behind even more. I read that Florida and many other places are getting rid of social promotion in grades after say grade 2 or so. This makes a lot of sense and echoes what someone posted earlier...we need much greater intervention in earlier grades. What exactly are teachers teaching in lower grades if some kids are getting passed along? I agree with the sentiment that PA teachers get some v v v amazing kids and do an ok job with them and a NOT ok job with the not so amazing kids. I don't understand why this is even an issue...when did US schools start social promotion and why, especially in higher grades?
One thing to consider, how many of these "ranked" schools are magnet, charter, or semi-private schools? These kinds of schools have specific entrance requirements and specific requirements to remain enrolled. Paly and Gunn are full inclusion public schools. They HAVE to take all students that come to them and cannot exclude based on behavior, test scores, etc. Doesn't seem like a fair comparison in that regard.
Yeah, it's probably not fair at all to compare a school district that has more money than any other, and the highest test scores, and only 10% minority and free lunch with all these other schools that are stuffed with diverse students. How unfair of a comparison can there possibly be. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, PAUSD is the best and it's unfair to compare us to anyone else.
That letter from the Paly teacher would now seem prescient. We dumb down the schools and automatically drop off the list of best schools. Seems pretty straight-forward.
Rather than damning the teachers maybe we should start listening to them.
Good so now we know it was underperformance by disadvantaged students that did us in. As I said earlier, waiting until these kids are in high school to tackle the problem is waiting until it is almost too late. What is really needed is massive help and intervention for those kids as early as elementary school, and then throughout K-12 as needed. They just don't get that help before high school.
[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
@ Sheesh -
WOW - you are so far off - do you realize that many of the struggling students live RIGHT HERE in Palo Alto? There are kids in apartments in Palo Alto who barely have enough to eat - and whose parents are working two jobs to keep the family from going under? Have you any idea how many people in your own city are SUFFERING? Further, it isn't only income - there are plenty of kids with gobbs of money from dysfunctional and toxic families. These kids have behavioral issues, undiagnosed learning issues, anger issues, and meanwhile their parents are spending their cash on a new Tesla and an extra nanny.
If you care about the other issues - as you say - then you should start by educating yourself.
@Sara: Then why are these people living in Palo Alto, one of the most expensive places in the nation if they cannot afford food? There's the East Bay, Redwood City, San Jose, etc., all with cheaper rental prices. I read that most of the "underperforming students" are from the VTP (Tinsley) so I'm not just blowing hot air. Sure, it's PC to have a bleeding heart, but at some point, these people have to help themselves.
@Sheesh: Some poor people are in Palo Alto because Palo Alto was their home when they became poor. My parents divorced and my mom, who didn't have a college education but valued education highly, worked hard and struggled to keep us in Palo Alto so we could get a good education. Now we are college graduates, taxpayers, and raising our own children in Palo Alto (donating to the schools also).
You say you invited VTP students for playdates "but the families are just not interested." Perhaps they sense your hostility. After all, you seem to think we shouldn't educate them and they shouldn't even live here.
Lots of red herrings here. Our schools should be for our children and not for those who live outside of Palo Alto. Yes, Los Altos Hills attend Gunn but they are from similar families so they blend with our students of Palo Alto. The 60s proved busing is a failure. Birds of a feather. . .
The chickens, finally, have come home to roost & upset the previous "balance" that I experienced in Palo Alto schools. Now that it's become obvious what the problem is, how will it be fixed?
The editor of US News, Bob Morse, explained the reason that Paly and Gunn did not make the rankings:
"The goal [of the ratings in the ranking] was to ensure that all students received the same education at the high school, "regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds," the report said.
Morse explained that if one looked at the test scores for Paly and Gunn one would see that there is a gap—in the negative—between the state average score and the school's score.
"This negative means those two school's disadvantaged students didn’t perform as well as the state’s average," he said.
OK, so now we know the truth, which as someone posted above. PAUSD did not rank in the US News list of best public high schools, because neither Paly nor Gunn meets the criteria to be a "best public high school." PAUSD's minority students do worse, relatively speaking than minority students in other districts. Our minority students do worse than the state average. Indeed, in some classes our minority students are among the lowest-performing minority students in the state.
PAUSD should be deeply ashamed of this result from US News. Our district's reputation is now suffering due the mistreatment of minority students in this district. We just treat struggling students (of all races, frankly) like they don't matter. And now you see the result. Declining prestige! I would laugh if it wasn't so sad for the minority kids.
The school board should consider this US News result to be an emergency. Unfortunately this is a board that doesn't even consider 4 federal investigations (with more likely in the pipeline) into Civil Rights violations to be an emergency, nor does it consider having the fact of federal findings hidden from it by the superintendent to be an emergency. This is a board that might consider an Ebola outbreak to be an emergency but I wouldn't bank on it.
I know that Dr. Skelly cares about this issue. But faith without works is dead.
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