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The Cost of Being A Paly Student

Original post made by Concerned Parent on Dec 9, 2013

Last Friday Paly's student newspaper, The Campanile, ran an opinion piece written by Paly senior and Campanile editor-in-chief Hillel Zand, entitled "The Cost of Being a Student at Palo Alto High School: Passion for learning at all-time low, value of applicable life skills in need of greater recognition."

Zand has some important things to say from the youth perspective about the costs to high school students of the "constant, unspoken and 'palpable' expectation of achieving academic perfection" and how that is supposed to lead to "reaching the Mecca of Palo Alto: college admission."

Zand chronicles the sheer volume of work burdening most students, resulting in loss of enthusiasm for learning, and also cheating ("the great elephant in the room" Zand calls it). Zand writes:

"I challenge you to find more than a dozen students on campus who wake up each morning excited for the material they will learn that day in all their classes. Rather, they are more likely dreading the impending note-taking and piling-up of work that will greet them."

Those in the community who haven't had a chance to read The Campanile might want to check out this article in its entirety:

Web Link

Zand raises important issues of concern. The community often encourages youth to speak up. Here we have it. Take a look. Think about it. How might the issues he raises be addressed?

Comments (66)

Posted by Agree, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 10:34 am

Thanks for posting, and thanks to Hillel for the courage to write the article. Good to see the principal's thoughts on this - hope she can make a difference because there is a lot of suffering going on and some of the counselors don't care.

Most of the teachers sincerely care about students but don't realize how hard they are working. The issue is they think our children are so smart that they can handle more than they should be assigned. The teachers have no idea how much their students are sacrificing and working hard at home. I complained to a teacher and his reply was, "But he's getting an 'A", to which I replied, "But at what cost? He is completely sleep-deprived and has to spend an hour on your regular-lane class each night and has 5 other classes." And I am the rare parent who spoke with a teacher - most are fearful of backlash from teachers so their children suffer in silence. There are some fantastic teachers who know how to give just the right amount of work so the students enjoy the class and learn yet still have to put in some work. But there are others who sadistically force-feed their students and think their class is the only one. Those who choose to assign a lot of work should offset it by grading easier.

The math department supervisor, Radu Toma, has guaranteed that all but the lowest lane of math is doable without a tutor. And most students are not in the lowest level, which a math teacher claimed was "only for the retards." The top two lanes are crazy-difficult without tutors, even for those who are good at math. Only 3-5 "A"s are distributed per class while everyone is working their tails off.

AP classes are really insane, while colleges claim they want to see AP classes on applications. And NO, all colleges do not know how difficult Paly is. Perhaps the UCs know, but nationwide, they do not.

Something needs to be done - this is a PUBLIC school.

Posted by This old thing?, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 9, 2013 at 10:59 am

Why should anyone in Palo Alto care about academic stress? After all the suicides have stopped so we can care about it again after it is too late once they start again. Then we can do some ineffective and cosmetic things intended to keep people distracted. Everyone who did nothing can be promoted. Anyone who wanted more like Ken Dauber can be accused of being crazy, Skelly gets a bonus, PIE gets 5 million, we march on. You kids get back in the hamster wheel . Do you think there property values are going to raise themselves.

The most pernicious part of this is the attack on critics. I really have to praise Dauber for continuing to care about this issue because it's right even if it's not popular. I guess that's why the students endorsed him. The rest of you silent accomplices should be ashamed.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm

This is a very brave piece for the editor to write.

The double whammy of Paly is that sometimes it is the teachers who are driving the pressure and other times it is the parents. While not all the teachers and not all the parents are the cause, the students are stuck in the middle and competing against each other for pressure top dog. For every student who says they were up to midnight studying, the next one has to out do them by saying they were up to 1.00 am. For every teacher who tries to reduce the amount of work, a parent will ask why their student doesn't have enough homework. For every parent who tries to ask a teacher to make a realistic homework load, there is a teacher who is compared to another for not assigning enough reading, or practice work.

Posted by secretive parents, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

A problem is the parents who secretly pay a lot to have their teens tutored to a high level (regardless of interest or need on the part of the student), thus raising the level of competition, especially in Mathematics. I have seen some poor ethics among parents pressing their teens to "be #1." Then, when they aren't admitted to Harvard, they cry racism. (Perhaps - thankfully - the Adcoms see through some of these ethically challenged families.) Meantime, they make life much more unpleasant for the mainstream students who are there to learn and experience high school and explore extracurriculars of their own interest, as opposed for resume-building for college apps, as prompted by Tiger Mom. We found secrecy to be a competitive tool, with revelations that came out from supposed "friends" who kept silent about their competitive tactics until revealed during apps time.

Posted by This old thing?, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Paly Principal is quoted in this story saying. "I've always thought that there's just way too much work and pressure on our students."

What has she done. Thoughts are nice. But if they stay in your head and don't become policy what good are they. You were the VP of counseling and now you are principal so what measures have you taken to enforce the he work policy? Please alert the community to actions you are taking not your "thoughts." Have you distributed the policy? Required ISs to ensure that every teacher is following it? Implemented any rules for Paly on honors and AP homework? Do or do not. There is no try.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2013 at 5:07 pm

This article clearly states what has been an issue for year. High school is Palo Alto is ONLY about building a resume for college. Period.

Congrats to Hillel on a really well written article. @this old thing - principals actually don't have much power to enforce anything that is not in the teacher's contract. We have a homework policy, but if teachers don't follow it there are no repercussions.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 9:36 pm

"The top two lanes are crazy-difficult without tutors, even for those who are good at math. Only 3-5 "A"s are distributed per class while everyone is working their tails off."

There are way more than 3-5 A's per class. Only one class (if I remember correctly) has ever had a distribution of A's so scarce, and that's English.
"Implemented any rules for Paly on honors and AP homework? Do or do not. There is no try."
The problem with implementing harsh guidelines - ex 1 hour / AP class - is that students work at different rates. For APUSH, in which one chapter is assigned, and math, where certain problems are assigned, reading speed and grasp of mathematics significantly affect the time it takes for a student to do the work. I know several people who used the audio book American Pageant because then they could multitask and it was actually faster because they read slowly. These students would certainly have 1+ hours of "work" because the audiobooks sometimes run for 1+ hours. Would you use an average across classes? You can't win with harsh limits....

One other thing to note: Living skills should be altered to a course which teaches kids how to change tires, pay taxes, balance checkbooks, make edits to contracts, get loans (and the dangers of cosigning, etc.) and whatnot rather than a course which informs that -- shockingly -- sex may lead to pregnancy.

Posted by thoughts, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2013 at 9:42 pm

It's a great article and I believe the Paly principal cares about the well being of every Paly student. She has been principal for just a few months and has already made huge strides in rebuilding the teacher-administrator trust at Paly. She has the vision to take Paly into the 21st century. Give her time. She will make it happen.

Posted by Agree, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm

C, there is no disputing my statement. My child is in the AB lane (second lane) and in 10th grade, the teacher told me there were 6 "A"s per class and this year, I was told there are only 3-5 "A"s per class in AP lane. This might be normal for a normal class, but the class is extremely difficult.

And I've known other classes with low distributions of "A"s other than Taylor's English class.

Plus, what's the poster above talking about? Up until Midnite is a LATE night? There are plenty of students up past Midnight on a regular basis.

For those teachers who have parents complain that there is not enough homework, the parents should have their children enrolled in AP classes instead of complaining about a regular lane class. Doubtful there are complaints about lack of homework in those classes. My child has taken a few AP classes and there is rigor. Parents need to remember this is a public school, NOT a private school.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 1:20 am

I've never had either of those figures ever mentioned to me so I apologize for being ignorant. I was skeptical because for certain math classes I'm almost certain that the distribution of A's was greater...oh well, variance exists. I read more into the 3 side and less into the 5... Although I would like to think it's something like 7-8.

I wasn't referring specifically to a teacher's class -- as a whole, I think the upper English department gives fewer A's than, say, the history or science upper department. I believe in an APUSH mailer at the beginning of the year it said approximately 40% obtain A's in APUSH; I don't think upper-div English classes always reach that (I'm tempted to say they're at 30% but I'm really not sure). But then again, English classes are often smaller than APUSH so the sample size is smaller. I'll retract my statement about science -- after thinking more I have literally no idea how their spread looks.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 1:42 am

Ugh. I said class - I should start saying course. I wasn't thinking of Taylor; I heard AP English a few years ago had a distribution like that (I don't think she taught that year)....

Posted by this old thing?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:14 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by the truth, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:57 am

Parents are the driving force behind all the pressure on these kids to succeed, Education starts at home and it just happens to be that Palo Alto is a community that places a huge value on getting a great education. My dad placed a huge value on sports growing up and guess what, I worked very hard on sports and graduated with a 2.0 from Serra but was a heck of an athlete. I learned to study at Canada College and my dad did always say you can do it the easy way6 or hard way, get an education and do it the easy way. I then went on to USF and graduated with a 3.0 and am very happy today with a great job and family.

To blame teachers is wrong, we work for the parents and kids A majority, a huge majority, of parents are paying crazy amount of money to live in Palo Alto so their kids get a great education and are challenged academically.

This is a culture of high achievement academically in Palo Alto driven by very professional and educated parents. Is what it is!

Posted by Take Action, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:33 am

Hillel, with all due respect your generation simply has to stop whining and/or being snarky and competitive with each other, band together take some action. Fighting over the scraps available to you for admission to Cal is a result of political actions and decisions your parents and grandparents made. Take an hour off from your homework and tutoring and seek to understand the history of Prop 13 which sucked funding for public education in California. Talk to your parents and grandparents about why it is OK that some homeowners and many businesses don't pay their fair share of taxes, resulting in the University of California reducing in-state admissions and chasing out-of-state and foreign admissions. Enlarging the pie, instead of fighting over scraps, is the only way forward. Imagine if Cal, UCLA and UC Santa Cruz actually kept the promise of the UC system and accepted all of you who were eligble to attend. It would be an entirely different picture at Gunn and Paly. However, your parents, grandparents and local business owners are benefiting by low taxes while you stay up all night studying. You can change this. Overturn Prop 13! Lobby the School Board to implement homework limits. Lobby the School Board to implement a grading policy and monitor it! Use social media to out teachers with rediculous grading curves. You can do these things. It is within your power to make change. But not if you sit alone in your room cramming and hating on your fellow students. Band together and make change!

Posted by paparent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:43 am

@truth -- it's not just parents driving this. Part of the problem is that students have a very heavy homework load that other high schools don't but their students still do well on the AP's. Also, over many years, it has been noticed that some of the difficult classes give out very few A's, B's making it that much harder and competitive for all the students. That is something the high schools can change.

Another problem comes from the Palo Alto middle schools are too easy and don't prepare students well for the higher level preparation needed for high school.

Posted by this old thing?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

I'd like to know what Project Safety Net is doing with its time. It seems like every year a student writes something either at Paly or Gunn or both about homework and stress. Students have spoken out persistently on these issues for years. Why isn't PSN working on this issue? It seems like it does almost nothing. I thought it was supposed to be about youth well-being. Is there a more pressing youth well-being issue in the community than the one that students (youth) are constantly complaining about? Why isn't cheating -- and the pressure that causes it --a youth well-being issue? I don't understand what is Project Safety Net and what is it doing about this issue?

And don't post back a bunch of platitudes about the developmental assests. It's an asset to listen to youth.

Is PSN helping if the role it serves is to allow the schools to claim that they are addressing youth well-being by participating even if the result is nil?

Posted by Nothing new!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

What Hillel Zand writes about is nothing new. We were hearing complaints about excessive homework a decade ago already. My son's graduating class (2004) had two cases of teen nervous breakdowns and a suicide attempt, all of which landed these kids in the Stanford Psyche Ward! My son had 4.5 -5.5 hrs of homework each night during his sophomore and junior years. No time for social activities, no downtime, nothing but schoolwork.

However, kids in Japan and China go through this in spades. They are confined to there rooms after school until bedtime, with homework. They eat meals in their rooms while they study. We lived in Japan for two years so we know this is fact. I have heard that S Korea is almost as bad.

However, Finland and Poland have international scores higher than any in the world! and those kids have far less homework. In Finland, homework at the high school level tops out at 1/2 hour. But, the school day in much of Europe equals the work day--about 8 hrs. They also have a much, much shorter summer vacation--about one month, though the winter break is about one month. No spring break, no ski week, far fewer staff development days and no 3-day weekends. Far, far, far fewer teen suicides.

Japan still has the highest number of teen suicides in the world. South Korea has more than the US, and the rate on China is unknown or unreported.

Germany has gone back to old-fashioned kindergartens-- no academia anymore, more like pre-K. Kids in Russia learn to read at age 7, when their eyesight is fully developed and it is far easier and less confusing. I do not know about Russian scores, but Germany out scores the US by far, with far fewer burnouts and dropouts. I grew up in Germany and still have family there, and they are shocked by what the American school system does to children!

It is time for a complete overhaul--post-haste.

Posted by this old thing?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:55 am

Here's some more PSN questions:

Is bullying a youth well-being issue? If so, why has PSN been silent on the bullying crisis in the schools?

Is treatment of the disabled a youth well-being issue? One would think it is. Why isn't that being addressed by PSN?

Both of these factors have been linked to suicide (special education and bullying), and PSN is supposed to be addressing the suicide cluster. Where has PSN been on the bullying and special ed issues that are so prominent in this newspaper and in parents' minds?

PSN started as a coalition that came together to work on mental health and social emotional well being after the suicides. it should be providing leadership on the issues that youth are talking about including stress, homework, the achievement culture, and cheating.

It should be providing leadership on issues as well where we have problems in the schools that are linked to suicide and self-harm -- bullying, mistreatment of the disabled.

What good is an organization that doesn't do these things? Is it just a convenient way for the district to claim it is doing something when it is doing nothing? Why?

If I am wrong and PSN has taken an active advocacy and leadership role on these issues I apologize. Please give examples of advocacy and leadership on the above.

Posted by this old thing?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:57 am

Good post by Take Action.

Posted by fact checker, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:17 am

"If so, why has PSN been silent on the bullying crisis in the schools?"
Possibly because there is no "bullying crisis" in the PAUSD schools. Recent surveys show PAUSD has a much lower level of bullying than neighboring schools and throughout California. But, please continue...

Posted by Betty, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

Take Action, you do realize that high school students are not old enough to vote, don't you? Yes, stressed out 17-year-old, it's on YOU to overturn Prop 13!

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

> Take an hour off from your homework and tutoring and seek to
> understand the history of Prop 13 which sucked funding for
> public education in California

What a KROCK!

It is astounding that people claiming to be educated have no idea how much money is being spent on education in this state!

Why teach math if this is all that we get in return?

Posted by this old thing?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:57 am

@fact checker. Well, first that's not true. Palo Alto is not exceptional on this score. The California Health Kids survey clearly shows that PAUSD has about the same amount of bullying as other comparable districts.

Edmund Burke states the following statistics at: Web Link

Burke says that:

The incidence of bullying in PAUSD is average for comparable schools -- around 30% of students report experiencing bullying in the elementary schools,slightly more in middle school, and then the rate drops off in high school.

The California Healthy Kids Survey asks about bullying. It reports that for Palo Alto elementary schools in 2009-10 28% of teachers and administrators surveyed thought that bullying was a moderate or severe problem, and this number went up to 31% when asked about special education specifically. See: Web Link

Elementary school students surveyed in 2009-10, 33% reported verbal and 38% reported physical harassment "some or most of the time." 13% reported hitting someone else 2 or more times, and 20% reported spreading mean rumors at least once in the past year. See: Web Link

Among middle school students, 26% reported discriminatory bullying, and 33% reported any type of bullying whether discriminatory or not. 19% reported mean rumors were spread about them 2 or more times, a very high and alarming 24% reported having sexual harassment (sexual jokes, comments, gestures made at you) 2 or more times, and 17% reported being made fun of based on looks. 28% reported being physically assaulted 1 or more times, and 14% reported being afraid physically: Web Link

In 2011-12, Jordan Middle School reported similar figures: 18% of students reported mean rumors, 17% reported sexual harassment, 11% reported being made fun of (all 2 or more times); 32% reported being physically assaulted at least once, and 18% reported being afraid of being beaten up. 26% reported discriminatory harassment, and 32% reported any bullying. See: Web Link

District wide, 36% of middle schoolers reported being bullied during the past year, including 24% who said it was for a discriminatory reason. 15% reported experiencing sexual jokes/comments/gestures as a form of harassment 2 or more times. Web Link

Based on these surveys a couple of things jump out:the amount of bullying appears to be stable and average; discriminatory reasons appear to lead compared to "no reason" bullying but overall bullying is quite prevalent; physical violence and sexual harassment have such high numbers over time that they should be a focus of prevention.

How "bullying" is measured is the subject of this interesting article that was recently published in the Weekly: Web Link

The reporter concluded that: "A Weekly analysis of the Reality Check data obtained from the school district shows that of the 2,174 Palo Alto middle school students surveyed in fall 2012 who were asked about being bullied once or twice (or more) in the past 12 months, a total of 48 percent reported verbal bullying; 38 percent social bullying; 22 percent physical bullying; and 15 percent electronic bullying."

But don't let the facts stop you from reflexively defending the indefensible. Instead, let me rephrase: "the crisis in having no appropriate response to bullying in our schools, thus allowing what bullying we have to spin out of control and become much worse than it otherwise would have in the presence of good management and appropriate, lawful policies." Like that better?

Posted by PTA mom, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

Project safety net was a great idea but it ran into resistance from the school district. It basically turned into a pretty ineffective organization especially on school issues. Not anyone's fault really but that is what happened.

Posted by Agree, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

Error in my post! "The math department supervisor, Radu Toma, has guaranteed that all but the lowest lane of math is doable without a tutor."

Radu Toma has made math so difficult that only the lowest lane is doable without help or a tutor. Most students have parental help or tutors at home. Definitely, to earn an "A" in math, students are being tutored unless they are in a lane which is too easy for them.

@Take action: Hillel is probably knee-deep into college applications and first semester senior year grades. He is doing well by publicizing the issue. Kim Diorio, Paly principal, needs to take action. The School Board doesn't care - they are mostly Ivy League graduates with children who are Ivy League students so they think it's all whining. We need non-Ivy League School Board members but Palo Altans equate Ivy League degrees with common sense and intelligence.

@Nothing New: the American academic calendar is ingrained to the culture and will never change. Also, we are in a bubble in Palo Alto; other cities with public schools don't have rampant rigor.

It's a shame that for our PAUSD students to have a balanced life, they need to accept "B"s in core classes.

Here's an article about schools all over the world, an interview with Amanda Ripley, author of 'The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way:

Web Link

Posted by Agree, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:26 am

Oh, not the Edmund Burke, bullying issue again. Wrong thread, "this old thing."

Posted by fact checker, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Yes, this old thing. Check out the actual presentation: Web Link

If you buy the narrow opinion of anonymous bloggers such as Burke instead of looking at the facts, you get what you pay for.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by murmur, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Most of the pressure comes from parental delusions that their kids are so special & gifted that they deserve & will get As. Ask any PAHS history or English teacher how many emails they get each week from parents questioning a B instead of an A for their kids on essays or quizzes. Heaven forbid a C!! After all, we live in Palo Alto so our kids are not "average" in any way, no matter what the competition suggests. Hogwash!

Cheating? Yes, rampant. There is a school policy to handle cheating, but parents routinely protest & challenge the consequences. The former principal @ Paly always backed off & refused to punish offenders, demoralizing the honest hard working students. Kids get bragging rights if their parents succeed in sufficiently intimidating teachers or administration into changing grades. Doesn't make a healthy environment.

Parents, rethink your expectations. Wake up! Not every kid in every class gets or deserves A grades. Homework overload will stop when parents stop demanding "proof" that their kids have conquered, outperformed & outlasted their peers in the competition to be better than the rest and survived to get a coveted A.

Posted by MaxDigital, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I agree with many of the comments posted thus far that decry the unnatural total focus on grades uber al. I don't think any one ethnic group has the lock on this focus, though they may well be on their way to perfecting it. I've come to agree with the notion that rewarding maximum individual effort performed in an ethical way (no cheating, shortcuts or plagiarizing etc) will lead to outstanding results. And forcing kids to pile up the extra-curriculars in order to pad their resumes rather than developing into well-rounded human beings, reinforces a deceitful way of being in this world. A one-dimensional parent-dominated kid who plays the violin, received numerous participation trophies for soccer, and tap dances, is still a realtively boring, one-dimensional kid. Hopefully college admission officers can see through the charade and send the parents into a corner with a dunce cap.
C: I love your proposed transforming of Living Skills into a truly useful class. Adding a section on Ethics might not be a bad idea either. Folks shouldn't have to wait until business school to get a mandatory taste of it.

Posted by Barbara, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Again and again we hear that admissions officers from highly selective colleges look for applicants who take the most rigorous courses available to them. What choice do high schools have but to prepare students for the bar set by the colleges? Who advises college admissions offices on the requirements they set for incoming students?

Posted by Paly grad, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:18 pm

As a freshman at a well-regarded liberal arts college and member of Paly's class of 2013, I feel I have a bit of a responsibility to speak up here. I have been astounded, again and again, by how well my education prepared me for college. Though I've found my classes here difficult, the step from high school to college has been perfectly manageable. I'm used to classes getting a "C" average on exams or papers (a common occurrence at my college), and the kinds of assignments I'm asked to complete are very much in line with what I was assigned in upper-level and AP classes at Paly. The most interesting difference, to me, is how my college is far less concerned with grades—and I think that's something that Paly students and parents could stand to work on, as grades aren't a big deal if they're not viewed as a basis of self-worth and method of competition. As a whole, Paly students should not be complaining about difficult workloads, instead they should be thanking the school for preparing them for a rigorous college education. It's a privilege.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm

> It's a privilege.

This is a very sad concluding comment to an otherwise interesting post.

We live in a rights-based society, not a priviledged-based society. The taxpayers pony up about 5% of the GDP to pay for education, in order to educate our youth to carry forward the goals, and dreams, of those who sacrificed so much to make this a country where people have basic rights, and access to an education system that is intended to keep the future as free as we are.

It's a shame that this young person has not been provided the basics about his/her birthrights. Getting a high quality public education should not be a privilege, it should be the norm.

Posted by Take Action, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Betty,as you pass the turkey to your grandchildren on Christmas Day be sure to thank them for allowing you and your generation to pay less than your fair share of taxes to support the UC System. After many years of underfunding, we passed prop 30 which closed the gap but not enough to make up for years of neglect.

Oh, I know, Grandpa Bob is going to complain that the UC President makes too much money and that building a new campus is Merced is to blame for you kids getting stiffed on UC admission. Grandma Betty is going to pat you on the head and say,"Dear, dear, just study hard and it will be OK. You are much to young to understand the political underpinnings of your situation."

Hey - you at the kids table - tell Grandpa and Grandma to chill. You know wassup. Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa underfunded the UCs for years. Now that you are applying, it is suddenly your fault that your SAT scores aren't perfect and that you don't have a 4.3. I bet Betty and Bob and/or their kids got into Cal with a whole lot less to show for themselves (I know I did :). So teens, don't be fooled by Bob's rant on the UC budget or Betty's tut-tutting about your youth prohibiting participation in political action. The biggest threat to your success is not the kid in the next seat or even the kid in Korea or China. It's Bob and Betty who are trying to tell you that enlarging the pie is not the answer. It's people like the Mungers (your Palo Alto neighbors) who did everything in their power to torpedo prop 30 - and failed.

The good news is that Bob and Betty and their aging cohorts are on their way out. Youth are the biggest demographic in California - youth of color and youth in poverty. Young people are responsible for the Democratic majority in California and for the success of progressive taxation like Prop 30. Keep it up kids.

And while you are at it - ask Dad why Apple, Google, Cisco, HP and others don't pay their fair share of taxes. Ask them wassup with transfer pricing and why executive performance pay is a tax deduction.

Politics is messy and slow and the change may not come about fast enough for the class of 2013 but we are on the right path to make things better for your younger brothers and sisters.

Don't try to solve a political and economic problem with a personal solution. Tutoring is the only solution Grandpa Bob and Grandma Betty have to offer in addition to the usual bootstrap pulling-up yarns. Don't buy it. If McDonald's employees can protest and organize you can too.

Posted by no bullying, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 4:38 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Stress free family, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I guess I am lucky that my son does not belong to the group of students described in the article even though he's a Senior at Paly and will have spent 4 years at Paly.

My dear child decided all by himself that he did not have to take all the hardest classes, rather only the honors and AP classes that he was truly interested in. He's also decided that Bs are Ok, especially in AP classes.

And ... he likes his life and his schooling. Not overly stressed, no cheating, enough sleep and free time.

So what gives? Well, obviously, he won't be admitted to universities such as Stanford, even if he's intelligent enough for it. He cannot compete with the over-scheduled, overbooked, overworked, over-stressed crowd of students with umpteen APs and a 4.1 or higher GPA.

He's accepted his fate. He will go to a "lesser" university but a good one nonetheless. And guess what? It's fine with him and with us, his parents. We have every trust in our child. He'll do very well at the university that will accept him and that he'll choose to go to. And we have every confidence he'll do well later in life as well. It does not take a Stanford, Harvard or MIT undergraduate degree to have a wonderful life.

We are happy at Paly, Each one of us makes what his/her life is like. No one else.

Posted by New Neighbor, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm

We moved here a few years ago from a private school on the East Coast and it's clear that the "B" students would be "A" students elsewhere. Paly teachers are harming the GPAs of our children when there are so few "A"s doled out. Thus, our admittance rates to colleges aren't correlating with the amount of work/stress or students are enduring. So our "B" students go to college with other "B" students but there is a huge gap between the two.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 10, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Kudos to Hillel on an honest and probing article. May some real change come out of it.

Posted by Interesting Point, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:08 pm

My last child graduated last year. What's going on is parents are doing the schoolwork for their overworked children. We used to laugh when our work wouldn't earn A's in our respective college degrees.

Posted by Stress free family, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm

@ interesting point

Yes, and our older children have known college classmates whose parents still did their homework or papers for them once in college as well. It's a never ending stream of ridiculousness out there nowadays. No end to it.

In our family, we decided to raise ethical kids who can stand on their own two feet. We've never done their homework, allowed them to cheat, or demanded As from their teachers for them. And Bs have been acceptable.

The result, believe or not, is successful, resilient young adults who did not go to Ivy leagues but are now doing better than many of their counterparts who did go to Stanford or Ivy leagues.

Posted by Ethan, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Hillel - thank you for writing such in incredible opinion piece. You've summed it up quite nicely, man. As a student at Paly, I am behind every word he has written. Nice job.

Posted by Palo Alto High Student, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm

I'm a senior at Paly, and everything Hillel is saying is completely true. I put as much effort as I can into all my classes, but sometimes I feel like teachers just don't understand how much we have going on with other classes and with extracurriculars as well.

I'm the president of two charitable organizations and am also the treasurer for a club at Paly that requires I raise $6,000 by the end of finals week. My AP's plus my extracurriculars, college apps and scholarship applications make it hard to find time to spend with my family. "Mental sanity" time comes at such a high cost (getting behind on my work) that normally I just reach for the nearest cup of coffee and caffeinate to stay alive.

The craziness of my life because of PAUSD's insane work load affects my pre-existing health conditions, but since stepping back would mean my grades slipping, and a lower chance of getting into college, I feel like I don't have much choice.

The administration at Paly is really no help in all of this, and that's mainly because the guidance office is so understaffed (1 counselor to every graduating class which is around 500 students). Paly's teachers and administration need to step up their game.

Posted by PAHS Student, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm

To Stress free family:
How great that your child has found Paly to be a place where they can enjoy themselves. While your child may have a low-stress experience at Paly because they've reconciled getting B's and not getting that "4.1 GPA," I'd just like to offer another perspective as a Paly senior myself.

I too have accepted that B's are okay, and only take AP's I'm interested in. I've never cheated on a test or quiz of any kind, and I too have accepted the fact that I won't be going to an Ivy League, and my parents and I are happy with that decision. I like my classes and my life as well. However, I'd like point out the fact that even as a "B" student, I still struggle and work tirelessly for the grades I get, and feel very much like Hillel describes. It's not just the "4.1 GPA" students that feel this way, it's the F, D, C, B and A earning students. Wherever a student is on the grade earning spectrum, the work that Paly asks us to do is simply too much, and while the strategy that your child uses works for them, I don't think that students should be asked to reconcile themselves with anything less than their highest potential, simply because a school is too difficult for all its students to achieve.

Posted by Your choice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Re: Paly senior with health condition - wait a minute. You know you have a health condition. You choose what to do about it, or not do about it. Your family is involved in the choice I hope. And you choose extracurricular activities, multiple, with leadership roles, extra pressures and requirements of your choosing, at a time when you know you have to apply to college and do scholarships (are they due at the same time??) and you chose what classes to take, and it's the school's fault. [Portion removed.]

Posted by aparent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Your choice,

The majority of Paly kids have other responsibilities besides school.

That should be considered not discounted!

If anyone is actually looking to reducing the costs, it would be good to start acknowledging that extracurriculars, sports, or doing nothing need time too.

Many teachers are good and reasonable about work, but the bad ones can be really heavy tolls.

Posted by Palo Alto HS student, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:18 am

Hey C,
I go to Paly, I know a bunch of people that didn't know facts they learned in Living Skills regarding Sex or the various methods of birth control. This class has prevented pregnancies by showing students the different forms of safe sex and also measures to take and where they can be taken (Planned Parenthood-for one). YOU might be "too good" for this class because you knew *everything* that there was to learn but believe you me, this class is actually important. Do you really wish to remove the only sex education we receive in high school? You're playing right into the hands of Sarah Palin-who, might I mention, has a daughter who had a teen pregnancy. Listen to Hilary Clinton- Sex education is the only way to lower teen pregnancy rates & abortion rates.

Posted by Frank, a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2013 at 6:17 am

That's why so many students from Asia come over here to attend schools such as Paly, Gunn and Homestead. They, and their parents, know they will get the proper 'grooming' for higher education and future success at these high schools. The pressure will only get worse as the competition gets tougher for getting into the most prestigious universities. That's what the global economy dictates.

Posted by aparent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 7:40 am


"The pressure will only get worse as the competition gets tougher for getting into the most prestigious universities. That's what the global economy dictates."

The global economy does not demand graduates from prestigious universities.

Just think about how big the global economy is, and how small the prestigious schools are. The global economy is powered and led by the masses who are educated in a variety of schools.

The prestige part is hype, and most everybody knows that except for the people who think prestige is a condition.

Posted by wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

Bottom Line: We all make choices as kids and adults. We are most happy when we take responsibility for our own lives and decisions we make. Please remember, teachers are held to high standards by parents in Palo Alto and majority of parents in Palo Alto are very, very high achieving people who want their kids challenged in the classroom and have paid big money to live in Palo Alto so their kids will be pushed academically and will be ready for rigors of the real world out there. Some of these kids need to start having some real conversations with their parents if they are feeling overwhelmed etc...

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

How many people took notice of this recent NYT article about grade inflation at Harvard?

A's Have Been Harvard's Most Common Grade for 20 Years:
Web Link

Certainly makes one wonder if all of those A's were earned, or just a gift, from this prestigious school?

Posted by Dad, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:54 am

Get rid of curved grading.
If you set objective standards for what it takes to get an A, then school becomes more about learning and less about competing.

And review homework loads to ensure they follow targeted loads (e.g. 1/2 or 1 hour homework per night per class).

Posted by Paul (Paly Grad), a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:29 am

This article presents one side of an argument that I find to be aimed in the wrong direction. While at Paly I found that the teachers and staff put more effort towards reducing stress on us than we did for ourselves, and many of my teachers wove valuable life lessons into their academic ones, but, big surprise, no one took notes on those tangents because they knew it wasn't important for their grade...

To all parents and play students, I'm sorry, but if you or your child are not interested in learning and only care about your/their grade, that's your own fault. I went through Paly and had a great time getting to know my teachers. I took them out to lunch, stopped by their classrooms when I had free time on campus just to strike up a conversation, and the information I got from them during these off-hours encounters more than fulfilled the "life skills" lessons that Hillel's article claims are missing.

Teaching life skills is also the job of you, parents. If your kid, like the one interviewed in the article, doesn't know how to manage their money in college, that isn't their high school's fault. That's somewhere where the Palo Alto community can look at themselves and consider their methods of raising children. And I know this is an area that you can all improve on because I also struggled budget wise my first month or two at college, and that certainly wasn't Paly's fault—that notion actually seems ludicrous to me, can't believe people here suggest it so candidly.

Furthermore, this hype about the workload at Paly is a bunch of garbage. With the block schedule especially, the workload is more than manageable. I had a relatively stress-free high school career, and I now attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to show for it. It can be done. Frankly, if you have to overdose on caffeine and ritalin while building up a massive sleep debt to get into a top tier university, you probably don't belong at one.

I feel that this article is trying to create an external locus of control from the students at Paly and their feelings towards academics, when in reality, it is their own fault if they stay up too late, don't enjoy the material, and don't learn life skills.

Posted by agree with Paul, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I agree with all the posters who blame the children if they are stressed out. It is much easier to blame them than it is to consider fixing anything. So kids, if you're stressed, blame yourselves. Take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why any adult should care that you are tired when compared to the fact that their property values need to stay high. These sailboats don't just buy themselves, and have you looked at the price of plane tickets to France lately? Let's just get one thing straight: too much homework? Blame yourself. Stressed out? Blame yourself. Sleepless? Ditto. It is ALL YOUR FAULT. You were the one who had parents who wanted a good education for who? You, that's who.You were the one who was born at a time when competiton for jobs and college slots narrowed. Blame yourself. And also, you were the one who hired Kevin Skelly to run this district and who decided that the Paly Math department should keep up the pressure. That was all you, kid.

Posted by Agree, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Paul: Agree that life skills are parenting issues, plus, they should remove the Living Skills requirement and include it in the P.E. curriculum. However, don't know when you graduated, but in the last few years, Paly has hired young teachers who assign challenging workloads, and if a student receives all of them in one year, it leads to a very rigorous year. While one of my children has had moderate teachers and only occasional stress, another child is stressed out by the demands of these sadistic teachers and the counselors do not allow schedule changes based upon this. Perhaps the teachers of yours allowed you to have a stress-free ride, being that you had time to take them out to lunch and shoot the breeze. And the fact that you now attend UMichigan means you achieved a 3.75+GPA, and around 650-750 on your SAT sections (2200 total), according to Naviance, which has college acceptance data on Paly students. And UMichigan would definitely require AP courses. When we hear parents have resorted to doing their children's homework, there is a huge problem. In conclusion, you are just one very intelligent person who doesn't need to try too hard to succeed - good for you!

With mostly "B"s on a transcript, where does a student go to college besides CalState colleges? They can't even go to second-tier colleges. Not all parents are shooting for UCB, UCLA or Ivy League schools, but the amount of work our students incur should allow them to attend more than CalState colleges.

Posted by Paly '94 alumnus Natalie, a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Things must have changed since I was there - this doesn't sound like the Paly I knew 20 years ago!

I graduated from Paly in 1994. I don't remember being stressed or overloaded with homework. I had some awesome teachers. I took a couple of AP classes that I wanted to. I was in the flag team. I was busy, but I also often spent a little time with my friends after school. I remember doing about 1 hour of homework per class per night. Is that a lot???? My grandmother cooked dinner for me while I watched an episode of MacGyver or Stargate, and I even got an OK night's sleep. My parents did not overstress me to be overly competitive. I just wanted to do well and be honest. I don't remember what grades I got (that's how little they meant). I got a normal SAT score, and I was admitted to several colleges including UC Berkeley. I went to UCSD and ended up with a PhD and my rewarding career in Europe. I have no complaints about my education there!

Are things so bad now that kids can't get into any college without straight As? Have the new teachers changed into psychos? Are today's kids much more competitive and ambitious? Or are kids spending 5 hours on facebook every night before starting their homework? Something is fishy. I hope to find out more when I come to our 20-year reunion next summer...

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm

PALY is doing a good job preparing kids for the real world: Total focus on rewarding academic achievement at any cost over effort; promoting cheating and unethical behaviour to get ahead; ignoring the use of drugs for "recreational" purposes and coping with a high-stress culture, and as a study aid; creating a culture of grade point accumulation rather than knowledge accumulation. Concerned with the drug culture at PALY, I asked a high-ranking city education official what percentage of PALY students used drugs. The number he quoted me was so low that I couldn't figure out if he was truly that ignorant and blind, or this was the number he was told to give out to concerned parents. With the local Safeway making stacks of KUSH magazine on their in-store freebie racks available to everyone, it's no wonder drug use amongst our kids is no big deal to the schools and police. (Note: Safeway eventually stopped being a distribution point for KUSH magazine. I suspect I wasn't the only one who spoke to the manager about it, but who the heck knows. I went to a Rick Steves travel lecture recently in town and even he was extolling the virtues of his native state of Washington's legalization program. Didn't mean to turn this into an anti-drug crusade, but I think the issues of undo pressure to succeed at any cost in high school has some relation to drug use amongst our kids.

Posted by Foreign Educated Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

The big problem here is not Paly, but the educational system itself.

The competition to get into college where there is no universal college application center and a student can apply for as many colleges places as possible, and then get multi acceptances, is a big part of the problem.

The fact that colleges will not take the best students applying because they happen to come from the same high school, is another problem.

The fact that teachers appear to not want to give all worthy students an A grade is an even bigger problem.

When I was at high school, the aim of my teachers was that the whole class should be able to get an A if they deserved it. An A for the whole class would mean that the teacher was a good teacher who could teach a group of differing ability students, not that the coursework was too easy. After all, the curriculum was not the teacher's own preferences, but a national standard curriculum that every child in that grade had to study. If a teacher had too many failing grades, that teacher would be reprimanded as not being good enough.

It is amazing that in international standard testing, the US comes out really low at all levels, and yet here there is such a short school day and such a short school year and no talk to increase the amount of time in school, just to make the classes harder and increase the homework load.

It is about time that this country realized its education system isn't working and made some big time changes.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 11, 2013 at 4:05 pm

RE HS student:
Why not make one tutorial at the start of freshmen year mandatory for all freshmen where a Planned Parenthood speaker comes to talk? Or sophomores, whichever grade is deemed to need it the most? With perhaps a second one to allow those who were absent to make it up? This would ensure that sex-ed is given earlier (even after 5th and 8th grade) and that seniors/juniors don't go through HS without knowing about proper methods of birth control. And I recall doing the drugs/health unit in 8th grade -- we just repeated everything in LS (list names of street drugs, what do certain drugs do etc.) but maybe that's changed. I think that some of the curriculum in living skills is valuable, but I don't think there's enough to merit a class; perhaps it would be better spread out across several classes or mandatory lectures throughout the year.

Posted by Stress free family, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

@ anonymous

Are you kidding me? Paly creates all these problems? Uh? The bottom line is that if Paly tries to discourage cheating or other illegal behaviors by using consequences against the kids who do it, the parents come over and make all kinds of threats so that no consequences are applied!! Paly is not the problem in this instance. Parents are!

@ PAHS Student

So what is your solution? Give As to everybody so that everybody feels good no matter what? I prefer honest grades myself for my kids. The work at Paly is too much, you say? They've already cut it significantly. How much more do you want it cut? There is a simple solution for getting all As without any effort: change school districts and learn nothing, then struggle in college. That's the choice.

Paly '94 alumnus Natalie

You ask if it's impossible to get into college these days without all As. Of course not, but to Paly PARENTS (not teachers or anyone else) anything less than Stanford or Ivy League is basically considered shameful. This makes me laugh because I know some students who made into Stanford from Paly who were basically automatons.

@ Palo Alto High Student, a resident of Palo Verde

No club at Paly should demand that you raise any money. PAUSD actually frowns on this. I strongly suggest that you go talk to the principal. She'll intervene. This is unacceptable if it's true. And really? Creat 2 charities. Sorry but Paly has never demanded this. Don't be fooled by all the hype. A Stanford admission is not worth all of this.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 4:48 pm

@ Stress Free Family: the more I think about it, you are quite correct. PALY is not the problem. The threat and resources to sue which many PALY parents wield is what keeps the police and the school officials from doling out consequences. I even felt that when I was coaching youth sports here. A parent was freaking out during the game because I didn't baby their son after a minor booboo. They ran out on the court and carried him out. By the end of the game he was back on the bench wanting to play. Unfortunately, a few years later I saw a new "improved" jumbo version of himself apparently roided up on a PALY team. The same team that had many members of which confess to smoking weed and playing games high, as reported in the Verde sports pages, the same pages in which their head coach said he was going to do something about that (like drug testing) which of course never happened, never could happen since it would violate the pursuit of happiness and could derail the road to the right colleges.

Your other points are well taken too.

Posted by aparent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 11, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Parent blaming - the favorite educational expert sport.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm

@ aparent: Don't worry, there's plenty of blame to go around. But there are plenty of folks (parents, teachers, admin) that want to make changes. Problem is for parents, the system is what it is right now and any meaningful systemic change they could be a part of would probably not go into effect until their students are out of high school. The other reality is that there is a huge wave of folks buying into Palo Alto (their right to do that not questioned) who are paying for the system now in place and may be quite resistant to it being altered.

Posted by AParentToo, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm

The only meaningful change in the way things are run and emphasized now is to switch from an academic-achievement-is-the-only-thing-rewarded and crisis learning model (drug-parent-tutor-assisted cramming before the test and forget what you learned as soon as it's over) to a best-effort and character-based model. Every person has a unique potential. The latter model fosters that. The former perverts and retards it, even in naturally gifted "genius" students for whom school is relatively easy. It doesn't promote them giving their best effort either.

Posted by do cheaters never win?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 20, 2013 at 9:20 am

What if a lot of these high achieving kids are getting their results by cheating? Does that call into question the educational "success" of PAUSD and other districts where cheating is rampant? What if it's all a house of cards? What if what appears to be super-human actually is? Are adults being wilfully blind to the cheating epidemic because they are deriving benefits from it -- community bragging rights, higher property values, children in the right colleges? I am not talking about tutoring, I am talking about in your face academic dishonesty. The writer calls it an "elephant in the room." I have never heard our superintendent or board say a word about it, even though as I recall the Paly commencement speaker a few years ago plagiarized his speech.

Posted by Brunhilda, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 20, 2013 at 11:36 am

There has been a lot of cheating at Paly since the early 2000's. It appears to be increasing every year, as the technology for doing so improves.

In Palo Alto, and Paly, it seems that crime does pay and it pays quite well.

Keep in mind, too, that some kids cheat because they have punitive parents with excessively high expectations whom they are terrified to disappoint or "shame".

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Regarding cheating, it's hard to know whether rates are going up or down because teachers are not allowed to talk about singular cheating incidents, and word only gets out when a "cheating ring" comes into the open. This happened in Chemistry 3 2-3 years ago (9 0's on the final, and the cheaters were turned in by a peer); there will typically be about 1 talk a year about cheating and the penalties following a large number of similar papers with the exact same mistakes. With that said, there is a degree of difference in cheating on tests and cheating on homework, and the latter is certainly done more than the former. Among students, copying a HW problem is more acceptable (depends on the subject and how much it's worth) than copying a test problem (never okay because you want them to help the curve and it's idiotic to reward the cheaters). Teachers do come down harshly on cheating, and I promise they don't ignore it because they want bragging rights.

I don't think the parent excuse is a valid one. It's really more about college or being on par with peers than being 'terrified' of parents. And RE character model: That's all well and good, how does one institute such a model? How does one measure 'best effort' -- whoever studied the longest? There's a reason tests are used....

Posted by Brunhilda, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 21, 2013 at 2:37 pm

As an extra-curricular teacher for 20 years, I have had many, many students, especially Asian ones, cite their fear of their parents' wrath. One student cried that her mother would disown her because she got a B in math on her report card ( she was so hysterical she vomited).

Also, the rewards of cheating, if a student is not caught ( many aren't, and all think they never will be) are numerous and great. That is what I meant by crime pays and pays well.

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