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A headmaster's parting lesson for parents

Original post made on Feb 18, 2013

An overemphasis on college preparation is "extinguishing childhood" for too many of today's kids, says Norm Colb, who is nearing completion of his second decade as head of Menlo School in Atherton.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, February 18, 2013, 9:40 AM

Comments (69)

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Posted by They're Imploding
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2013 at 10:32 am

I have a feeling this will fall on deaf ears for many Palo Alto parents, and that's very sad.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

The college grads today who have been micromanaged by their parents all their lives are full of book learning with absolutely no idea how to cope with real life. I am hearing this from many would be employers who are dismayed at how lacking in social skills, life application skills and independent thinking they find those recent college grads who are aiming to find their first entrance into the career job market today.


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Posted by um
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2013 at 11:40 am

is anybody worried that there is someone who might be in need of some help posting to many of these forums. This person appears to possibly be schizophrenic, possibly in need of help. Perhaps his name is Peter Cao. Maybe he is a Stanford student. Is the Weekly trying to follow up and find help for this person or do we just delete his comments and ignore him, the online equivalent of stepping past a homeless mentally ill person on the street. Editor?

Editor's Note: We have taken steps to inform appropriate authorities about this situation. Thank you for your concern.


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Posted by Harriet
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Wise words spoken hope his words willbe heeded.


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Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Interesting comments but they run entirely against the reason parents send their kids to the Menlo School.

The Menlo School has an annual tuition of about $36K per year. Unless you get a scholarship, you have to be earning a good sum to pay this. In all probability, you will be earning that sum from a challenging job that depended on your getting a good education from a top school.

The Menlo School is well known for being a feeder to Stanford. If you want your kid to go to Stanford but it is looking questionable, send him/her to Menlo and improve your odds.

It may be romantic to think about "stolen childhoods". But what about "stolen middle age" when you realize that you didn't land a top job or "stolen golden age" when you don't have enough money to retire.


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Posted by Basket case
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:08 am

I agree with much of what Mr. Colb said, however it does seem a bit odd coming from MA.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

Sorry, Typo. Menlo.


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:39 am

Wise words about parenting. Also about teachers. Teaching should be given professional status and at-will employment. Teachers' unions would disappear.


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Posted by Bwana O
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:58 am

Wise words indeed.

Also, couldn't help but associate two stories in today's edition - this one and the other of a 22-yr old being struck by a train over the weekend.

The lessons and the outcomes are very clear and real - the question is....what is each one of us going to about it?


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Posted by Felicity
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I agree with this and so many others I know do as well. But very few adults possess the emotional courage to go against the prevailing culture and pull their kids from this mess. Schools contribute by pushing more at them at a younger age. Many teens I know (including mine) are woefully prepared for the world today and my college instructor sister and beau see college students who do not know how to do college level work at all and do find those that got there by cheating as they have no idea what they are doing. This eats at your soul and there are a lot of messed up people out there as the soul knows the truth.


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Posted by Sherry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm

My daughter attended Menlo School grades 6-12. There were instances where as parents we would protest the workload, and on one occasion actually held a special meeting with administration and teaching staff. Ironic that Norm Colb's message at the time was "folks, this is a college prep school and if it proves too rigorous for your child perhaps not the right environment".
Seems hypocritical now, unless of course after 2 decades of advocating a rigorous, challenging curriculum, the college track mentality and athletic excellence, he's learned a thing or two on the way out.


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Posted by Diogenes
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Let us hope that Mr. Colb is sincere and is heeded by the new leadership at Menlo. Leading psychiatrists caution parents about Menlo; the leadership of a leading not-for-profit dedicated to saving children racing down the elite path privately comments that Menlo can be a most dangerous place. Perhaps the best description came from a former student: it is a factory; the students are the raw material; the end product is admission to the "sacred ten." It is what its end-users (that is, parents) want; nothing that Mr. Colb can say will change Menlo unless the end-users demand it.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Sherry: you left out the fact that after a major meeting of parents with teachers and Norm Colb in c. 1999/2000, there was a marked reduction in the quantity of homework AND there was no "busy homework" given. AND the teaching staff made sure to schedule project deadlines by communicating with each other, so that students didn't have multiple tasks all due in at the same time. In short, the teaching staff responded promptly and effectively to the concerns of parents and students. And this policy (defined in Mr. Colb's fifth or sixth year at the school) has been sustained ever since.

A rigorous, challenging curriculum and an expectation of going to college do not have to extinguish a student's childhood: the quality of learning is important, not an impossible quantity of shallow, test-taught strategy.

Graduating students from Menlo School go to a range of colleges--the school isn't a "feeder" into Stanford. Robert Smith needs to compare percentages from the graduating classes from Gunn, Paly, Castilleja, and Menlo.

And while some students are excellent athletes (just as at other schools), by no means does Menlo put pressure on students to be in competitive sports--many other options are offered, and both my children enjoyed those.

Your claim of hypocrisy is unjust and not borne out by the facts.



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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

It all got going with the emergence of the "Tiger Moms" and the pressures and practices of private cram schools and tutoringbrought over from Asia - a lot of the education (if you can call it that) takes place outside of the regular high school in these venues; the goal is when one is at the high school to score the highest possible on every test (max # of AP's, maximizing SAT and AP testing) without regard to interest, natural development, respect for learning and serendipity of discovering or enjoying new or random stubject areas (like Art, for example). This creates an overall stressful, competitive, and gamed atmosphere for no benefit for the community since the "accomplishments" are typically not genuine.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm

jardins, you would need to be aware which kids are legacy or faculty kids - there were quite a few in my own day, and I assume this is still the case at Stanford.


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Posted by Sherry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Sorry Jardins, but my reference is to a different timeline.
Menlo has and still prides itself on being a college prep school.
As I said perhaps the easing has evolved over the decades.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Diogenes: you claim that the leadership of Menlo School privately says that it "can be a most dangerous place" (your words)? Are you claiming that Norm Colb says one thing in public and another in private?? What are your facts?

Students are not treated as factory material, and they are not pushed into entering the "sacred ten" (your words). There is a huge amount of positive attention paid to all students, both individually and as a community. Their strengths are respected, and they are helped with their weaker areas--without competitiveness between students or punitive treatment from teachers.

How long was the "former student" there, and with which head of school? I will not believe that you're talking about the Norm Colb era.






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Posted by Sherry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Also Jardins, the "Parental Anxiety" he refers to in this article is the same anxiety that led to the demand for reform and those meetings. While measures may have been taken to reduce the load, albeit not our experience, doesn't change Norm's statement that came through loud and clear : "folks, this is a college prep school and if it proves too rigorous for your child perhaps not the right environment". Therein the hypocrisy.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm

former Paly parent: what you describe is EXACTLY what I was able to spare my children from, by going to Menlo--which was by no means "a private cram school" (your words). They both had scholarships, so don't scream at me about being in the financially privileged--that's absolutely not the case.

If Stanford still favors faculty kids or legacy kids, that's NOT the same as being "fed" students by Menlo.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Sherry: in your first response to my message, you're sliding out of your initial claim by now saying that you had a different timeline. What was your timeline? Mine is 1997-2009.

In your second response, where you continue to claim that Norm was/is hypocritical, you're saying that a college prep school means anxiety, pressure, and other negative things. I'm saying that pretty early on in Norm's tenure, he voiced his view about Menlo being rigorous, but that he responded to anxiety and pressure by having the teachers reduce their load--which was true in the cases of both my children. Menlo continued, and continues, to be a college prep school, but without the anxiety, pressure, and cut-throat competitiveness that is fostered between students in other schools. Therein lies Menlo's brilliance.

Given that Norm implemented those positive changes as of 1999/2000 shows that he listened to parents and students and acted accordingly.
That is NOT hypocrisy.


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Posted by menlo mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

@Mr. smith -

I attended Norm's talk. My child is in middle school at Menlo. I think you might not realize how much time, effort and resources Menlo School puts into maintaining a middle school that encourages children to be children. There is a dress code. There are strict policies regarding media at school. There is a required class called "human skills" which helps kids learn how to be emotionally healthy. There are no cuts for any sports team, and a child can participate every quarter on any team they like. Team practices are during P.E., so there are no after school sports practice in the middle school. Every child is encouraged to be in the school plays, and sports and plays do not conflict, etc. My child, who is a jill-of-all-trades and master of none, has had the opportunity to try all sorts of things at a low-key level. She is under much less stress than many of her peers at the local school.

In our local public middle school, these opportunity to dabble, take risks and have fun simply aren't possible....which is very sad.

Regarding tuition - yes - it's very high! 20% of kids are on some sort of tuition break - and I would like to see financial aid options increase.

Regarding Stanford feeder school - not so much of a feeder as you might think... I believe Crystal Springs has the corner on that.

Having said all of that.... of course there are some very competitive people there....and one or two families who are completely crazy..... and a few who are simply awful....it's the Bay Area! Nothing is perfect.... but I truly see the middle school trying very, very hard to keep kids engaged in age appropriate activities, and I wish all children had that opportunity.


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Posted by Sherry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Jardins, no sliding here at all and my stance holds.
If you are claiming that you were in the same room as I then you surely heard him make that statement which stunned us all, but not you?

In any case, your experience is yours, mine is mine.
No need for further sparring - have a great day.


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Posted by New in Town
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm

It would be helpful in reducing parental (and kid) anxiety to see more profiles of kids and families who opted out of tutoring, middle school SAT prep, resume packing, Suzuki violin at age four, etc.

I want to meet the kids who were able to discover and follow their passions, possibly not even until middle or high school and who are working hard from their own motivation and drive, AND are from families whose kids have not stooped to cheating. (which I hear is so prevalent that some kids hardly call it cheating).

As a parent who mostly sees profiles of resume-packed kids in PA Online, and who reads of rampant cheating and gamesmanship and summer tutoring, it is hard to not be anxious that your kids will later feel they came up short by having an unstructured childhood and *not* playing the game.

Let's hear some inspiring stories that show nice guys do not finish last in Palo Alto!


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Posted by Quanah P
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Has anyone checked out Castilleja? My daughter attended for a couple of years, but at six hours of homework most nights, she had no life and hated it. She begged to go to Paly. Now she plays soccer and rides horses again, and is much more well-rounded.

Private schools can be worse than the top public schools, for sure.


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Posted by Deb Goldeen
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm

What I am wondering is when parents/people will connect the fact that at a certain point the society and economy we create as a community is a lot more important in terms of whether or not our children have happy, healthy and prosperous lives than whether or not they have high test scores.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Sherry: I'm entitled to some parting words, as well as you.

I'll repeat for you what I've said all along: Norm Colb did say those words about Menlo but he took measures to reduce the pressures and anxiety that parents complained of. In my experience, these measures were successful; I'm sorry if you had a different experience.

Adieu.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm

New in Town: Ohlone has a philosophy that would support what you're looking for.


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Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Dear New in Town,

My child is in seventh grade at Jordan. He has never had a tutor, or any kind of extra curricular activity that is academic. Many of his friends have tutors and study the material in advance of taking the classes. He is more than thriving. Of course, I am a townie and therefore not as competitive as many of the newcomers, so I may see his success through a different lens. The few other townies that still live here tell me that their kids have thrived here as well. The teachers have been fantastic. Much of the anxiety is driven by the over-achieving parents fears (see Robert Smith's comment above).

Norm Colb's article is fantastic to read. He sounds like a person worth listening to. YOU
choose which path to take for your family, don't let the fear & anxiety of others drive you!!!!


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Quanah P. "Private schools can be worse than the top public schools, for sure."

Yes, some of them can be. And the opposite can be equally true--the "top" (whatever that means to you) public schools can be worse than private schools.

Deb's priorities are admirably sane and enlightened, and I can attest to the accuracy of menlo mom's comments.

Adieu.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm

There are two different threads on this same article, one locked and one not. Here is what I said on the other thread in summary form. My son goes to Priory, which is awesome and if you are looking for a rigorous private school that does not have excessive homework (which I believe Menlo has) please look at Priory. Priory's slogan is "every child is known and loved for who they are" and I am here to say it is true, not hype. They focus on good values and balance in the middle school. If you want a loving enviornment with a rigorous education, look into Priory.

We did not complete our application to Menlo because at the open house, we were turned off by the statement that kids do 2.5-3 hours homework per night in middle school (what would high school be like? can't imagine...) and the teen speakers all said things (these are verbatim from my notes) "Menlo is for kids who want to compete at the highest level. We constantly push ourselves for the highest grades, the best colleges, and the highest achievements," "we plan to go to the Ivies and Menlo is the place to get us there," etc. Neither my son (very bright kid, by the way, in 9th grade math in 6th grade -- hey math geeks, Priory lets you place into the right math class regardless of grade) nor I was interested in that level of stress, competition, and homework. At the meet-n-greet with moms, the Menlo mom we talked to asked where else we were looking and we said Priory and she talked about how much she wished her child would have picked Priory, she did get in, but went to Menlo due to friends. She seemed sad and said the homework was really a lot.

I think my son could have probably done the homework more quickly -- he's a very strong student (takes after his dad) but who needs that kind of pressure and stress at that age (or any age?). We were leaving PAUSD which would give us that experience for free. I could see going there if you live in RWC or Woodside or Atherton and all the friends were going there I guess. But to us it seemed like there was no good reason to leave PAUSd and pay 50K for a very similar feel. My two cents. Go Panthers!


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Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2013 at 5:06 pm

To Menlo Mom:

I am glad your experiences at Menlo have been good. Most of the people I know who went there or sent their kids there were very satisfied with the Menlo School. I must also say that the people I have known who have sent their own children to any of our local private schools have done so very explicitly to get a high-end "college prep" experience. They are willing to pay a lot of money--even if they get some financial aid--because they see it as an investment and a conduit to higher-quality colleges and a better life for their children. This is particularly true of people in some areas other than Palo Alto specifically. I am all for people who want their children to succeed and who will work to that end. Honesty, balance, human values are all necessary as well, but a great education is worth the effort. So I find the comments of the former Menlo headmaster to be a bit off-putting in a way, though he does make some good points.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Michelle Dauber's comment is a perfect example of what drives this community. By telling everyone her sixth grader is in 9th grade math (good for him), it ramps up the competition. People in this community can't resist bragging about their kids which causes anxiety in others. Michael Krasny just did an interesting piece on this. In the last thread she asked why the HM didn't change the school's high academic drive. That's because the school is governed by a board of trustees. He is there to carry out their wishes.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Sorry not bragging but also being honest that its possible to have rigor without pressure. He has like 10 minutes pf hw per night. this is pur experience. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Michelle, good for your kid that he can handle 9th grade math with 10 minutes of homework a night. He must be very bright. However, not every kid in in Palo Alto is that bright and they have dreams of going to a college that is going to require them to work very hard to get the grades. Quit blaming the schools. They are only responding to parent's wishes. Not everyone is so lucky to have such a bright child. Please quit trying to limit other children's chances. Most are perfectly capable of the rigor. Be thankful your child is so smart he doesn't have to work hard.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Ok, ok. I think it's fair to feel that this is bragging and that is not what I intend. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

If there was a child hypothetically who was very good at math he or she should take a look at Priory because in addition to offering the ability to be placed in advanced math, the school is very focused on social emotional health and is a loving, low-pressure environment. I think if you are private school shopping right now, you might find Menlo pretty agro on homework. If you read this forum you might think that's what it takes to "get ahead." But actually the research shows that more pressure and more homework does not equal higher achievement -- it is counterproductive past a certain point. If hypothetically there was a child who was very good at math and had a passion for it, or was just generally a bright student, it is not necessary to put him or her under a soul crushing work load for him or her to succeed. Hypothetically, Priory has figured out how to do that, and I recommend it!

Others of my kids were not so gifted intellectually and struggled with Gunn's workload. I think that Priory would also have been great for them because it is a loving caring nurturing environment where the whole child gets what he or she needs regardless of what that is. Go panthers! I do not think any of our kids would have thrived at Menlo based on my exposure to it, albeit limited as it was.

And I do think that the HM comments are great, but since his school is the most aggressively pro-competition I have seen among the area privates and publics I find it rings a bit false.



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Posted by Paly alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 7:29 pm

For New In Town:

I was the oldest of many; my parents had little extra money, certainly not for tutoring or prep classes. My activities were limited to those I could bike to and pay for. I started violin in the schools at age 9, and babysat to pay for lessons starting in 9th grade. I was part of a student-led all-volunteer dance company. And I loved math, enough to seek out competitions. I applied to a math summer program my junior year of high school, and was able to attend on a full scholarship. And I loved most of my classes at Paly! SAT prep for me was sitting down with the book 10 SATs and practicing for speed. I attended an extremely well-regarded university, and I have always been grateful for the start I had in Palo Alto, for the faithfulness of my teachers and the inspiration of my peers.

As far as I know, none in our family ever cheated, and all of us have similar tales to tell.







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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Michelle, when you say your other kids struggled with Gunn's work load, were they in the appropriate classes? I have friends whose kids have been at Gunn and Pally and they didn't struggle but they also didn't take a lot of honors or AP classes and they did just fine. I wonder how many kids who are struggling and are stressed because they take classes above their level. It's partly due to parental pressure and also due to peer pressure. Again, you can't blame the schools for offering classes that the best and the brightest can handle. They also offer classes that the average kids (which would be mine) can handle. Some of us are perfectly satisfied. It sounds like your son would have been able to do well at Gunn or Paly since he is very bright. Please just let other kids who are bright pursue their passions at high school.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

I think honors classes are great. I don't know why you are implying that I don't. My kids were in the lane recommended by their teachers always, except when I tried to move them down because I thought it was an excessive amount of work and pressure. On that occasion, I was told that in math a student at Gunn cannot move down unless they are actively failing, i.e., getting a D or below. So just getting a B but feeling like your workload is insane and wanting to continue to play sports or be in youth group for church or YNG or whatever is not allowed. I disagree with that policy. Do you? Don't you think that if a kid is struggling to keep up and feels that they have to throw their "asset building" activities overboard because they aren't allowed to drop down a lane unless they are failing that should be permitted?

There are many policies in PAUSD that are not conducive to student health -- I think we all know that. No one is talking about taking away the chance to "pursue passions" in high school -- in fact, limiting homework to sane number of hours helps kids to pursue passions, as does limiting pre-taking courses and other ways of trying to get a handle on the arms race. I do not think that parents of perfectly normal children should have to leave for private school in order to find less pressure but I am not alone in that. I know dozens, if not hundreds, of other PAUSD families, all of whom pay taxes to this district, who have left the arms race and are now paying both private tuition AND taxes, and bond issues. So that is a problem or should be.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:54 pm

And in case it is not obvious, I don't think it matters whether a kid is "smart enough" to succeed at Gunn. I think it matters what the quality of life is while that is happening. Bright kids shouldn't be under stress and pressure either? What theory of pedagogy is it that has very bright kids laboring under workloads that adults would reject as excessive? What kind of mania has taken over our generation that we are subjecting our children to work habits and environments that would qualify as hazing rituals because we cannot address the core problems of society -- static billets at university with expanding competition for admission, lack of education funding, shrinking job prospects, and so forth? Why is the solution to put our kids under levels of stress that you or I or any sane person would reject for ourselves so that they can "succeed" in some meaningless race for some ever receding goal post? No thanks.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm

To other parents - Since I haven't had a kid in the higher lanes who has tried to drop down, is it true that they won't let a kid drop down?

Bright kids probably don't struggle as much as regular kids who are trying to achieve what they think is important because their parents and their peers think it is important. Frankly, I don't think it is a problem of the schools as much as I think it is a problem of the parents wanting their kids to "achieve" so they can brag about them and feel good about themselves.

So instead of attacking the high and middle schools, why don't you go after the institutions of hight learning for having such high standards?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm

P.S. perfectly normal children don't get into the private schools.


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Posted by menlo mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm

@ everyone

I think it would be best if everyone could just respect other peoples' choice of schools. I think you can find amazing, wonderful families at all of these schools, both public and private. It's not uncommon for families around here to send their own children to different schools. I know two families with twins who have chosen different schools for each child based on what's right for that child. And they are HAPPY!

Of course you can find a dark underbelly to any school - You can always find a kid whose being pushed too hard, or a family who is crazy. The most important thing is finding the right match for your child, and then support your child in a healthy, balanced way. I think it's also important to teach your child to respect all other schools and choices. A child who is being pushed too hard is a sad thing. We are happy with our school choice, and I hope all of you are happy, too. What's wrong with that?

Being a parent is so hard! I much prefer to parent with people who are happy with their school choice, no matter what it is, and I feel lucky to have so many friends with kids everywhere. Variety is the spice of life.

....and I wish all of you good luck.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I agree with you that colleges need to expand the number of available slots. I think this is a very significant problem. I agree and have stated this view publicly and within my own institution. I think it's a very serious problem. I also think it's a very serious problem that the banks drove our economy off the cliff and ruined the job market for college graduates. I supported Elizabeth Warren if that matters.

But meanwhile back at the ranch, we have to address the issue of solving those big-picture problems by forcing our students to run a gauntlet of stress -- whatever their ability level. High-performing students CAN do it (some of them, unless they are predisposed to depression or anxiety). SHOULD they do it is a different question. Are they happy? Do they feel good about what they are doing? Are they joyful learners or trudging off to get it over with? There are an awful lot of PAUSD grads out there who do not think that high school was a good experience even though they "succeeded." I have kids at Stanford and Berkeley as well as at schools that people would thumb their noses at in Palo Alto. It's not as simple as "smart kids can do it, so it's fine. Can and should are not the same.

In answer to your question about math, I have heard that Paly lets you drop down but Gunn does not. I only know what happened to us and I regarded it as crazy.

Perfectly normal kids do go to private schools. We have a large number of private school enrollments in PAUSD given how great our schools are. If people spent some time pondering that fact they might stumble across something interesting. I suggest that the district survey people leaving the district for private school (say after 5th grade when many do) to ask them why they are doing it. There are a LOT of kids in private school for a community with high-performing schools. We are not Oakland (no offense to Oakland). Essentially no one should be going to private school yet in the last school board election there were 2 candidates who both had sent kids to private schools.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

@parent: They don't want students lightheartedly trying out the higher lane and then dropping down if it doesn't work out. They want students to really consider their decision to enroll in a higher lane. Approval to drop down depends on the situation. Sometimes, a student may take a higher lane and then cannot drop down because there is no room in the lower lane.

My son dropped down a lane the following year and it was the best decision because the certain subject was not his strength.

All the pressure and stress comes from taking too many honors/AP courses. Some can handle it, others pile on the tutors to help them. Most end up excessively sleep-deprived. I spoke with some Stanford engineering students who said they get more sleep now than they did in high school.


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Posted by New in Town
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Paly Alum - Thanks for sharing! It sounds like you were able to pursue your passions AND the character-building experiences of working to pay for them - all while maintaining your integrity. Congratulations to you and your family.

My hope is that more of today's children can do the same in this environment.

My personal story of working in high school and college was 25+ years ago. The school workload allowed room for a job and outside activities, now global competition has us all in a frenzy.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Of course we have kids going to private schools, even in an excellent school district. There is a certain cachet about saying your child goes to Menlo, Nueva, etc. These kids would do equally well in the Palo Alto schools but they wouldn't have the private school credentials (ie, their parents can afford private schools). Given who the parents are in this area, many of them have attended private schools (just look at their Facebook pages) and they would not consider letting their kids do anything less even though the public schools here are excellent. You state that you have kids at Stanford and Berkeley. Would they have gotten there without the rigors of the schools here? Probably not. They were probably driven as many of the current high school students for academic excellence. Do you regret your kids getting entrance into these two great academic institutions? Would you ask them to change their high school experience which may make them not eligible?


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:45 pm

neither one of those kids graduated from our excellent high schools. One attended Niles North HS in Illinois where we are from, the other attended JC and transferred to Berkeley. So yes, I think they would have. I don't think this anecdata about my family matters though it might make a fascinating parlor game. I don't dispute in any way that plenty of kids get into good colleges from PAUSD. Plenty don't get into 4 year colleges who should be able to though because the stress didn't work for them. Plenty leave to go to private schools not for cachet but for a chance to thrive without stress. We both went to public school and I went to public college (University of Illinois-Chicago). We aren't snobs. Nobody who knows us could even think that. We know tons of people who left these schools very sad and also angry about it. You are mistaken about why a lot of people are leaving for private school but it's an empirical question and so let's do the survey I am suggesting. Maybe the PTA could do it, since this seems like a developmental asset question -- are excessive workload demands impacting people's decision to go elsewhere?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Of all the many families I know who left PAUSD, none of them left because of the stress of the schools. They left because they had the means, and they thought the private schools would provide a better, more competitive, education for their children.

I'd love to hear from parents who left PAUSD as to what their reasons were.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:01 pm

I just looked at the Niles North HS in Illinois ratings from Great Schools. It was an 8. The Palo Alto HS are a 10. Therefore, it would be easier for a kids from Niles to make it into Stanford/Berkeley than from PAUSD because there are more qualified kids and they can't take them all.


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Posted by menlo mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:09 pm

@ parent

Well - we left PAUSD because the middle school is so huge and our daughter is very quiet. At the encouragement of her PAUSD TEACHER - We thought we'd take a look at some smaller schools, just to compare. She fell in love with Menlo and was able to articulate exactly what resonated with her. She begged us to apply. She said it's where "she belongs."

She will probably attend a small liberal arts college, and she will probably never want to live in a big city. It's just who she is. Menlo's size works for her. I know a family who pulled their kid out of Menlo for the size reason...it was too small for their child, who blossomed in the large public school.

It's one reason why I think it's so important not to judge people for their school choice - everyone has a different reason to pick their school, and everyone needs to be respected for families and their choices, and all of us are just trying to do the right thing for their kid.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:13 pm



what is HM?



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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Jardins,
You misunderstood me completely - I said NOTHING against Menlo, but against the practice of AFTER SCHOOL, WEEKEND, AND HOLIDAY private cram schools and tutoring, and there are tons exclusively for the Asian community.
I did not refer to Menlo, Paly, Gunn - those are the regular, daytime schools where the actual grades that count are received, and where the stress levels have thus been ramped up, otherwise one may indeed be left in the dust at all these schools owing to the gaming of the system by Tiger Moms.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

@resident, HM==headmaster
@mom, too crazy to answer.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:41 pm

oops sorry I meant parent not mom. Sorry, sorry.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm


Ultimately this all determined by supply and demand, as it happens all around the world when people make choices between private and public. Nit picking about what suits one family over another is unnecessary.

Priory, Menlo, Castilleja, Crystal Springs, how many students are we talking about?


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Posted by paparent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:14 am

@Menlo Mom, your comment:

"There are no cuts for any sports team, and a child can participate every quarter on any team they like. Team practices are during P.E., so there are no after school sports practice in the middle school. Every child is encouraged to be in the school plays, and sports and plays do not conflict, etc. My child, who is a jill-of-all-trades and master of none, has had the opportunity to try all sorts of things at a low-key level. She is under much less stress than many of her peers at the local school.

In our local public middle school, these opportunity to dabble, take risks and have fun simply aren't possible....which is very sad."

I disagree that our public Middle school students in Palo Alto are more stressed and/or lack opportunities and activities for plays, sports, fun classes, etc. On the contrary, that's what I'd say our public middle schools do well. The problems are our public middle schools are too light on the academics, for example, very few writing assignments, lack of grammar instruction (ask your middle school student if they can find the subject and verb), and very little literary analysis; history is too little too, etc. The private middle schools have a rigorous curriculum which is very beneficial in preparing for high school. But some of the privates, and surely Menlo is one of them, stress out their students by demanding too much and expecting excessive time spent on homework. I'm not advocating our public middle schools go to that extreme (as at Menlo), but the academic level sure could use some improvements.


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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:40 am

Palo Alto middle and in some classes, the high schools could use some additional rigor - in the CLASSROOM! Student learning should occur in the classroom. Kids grades should primarily depend on their work and participation in class. I have a Paly junior and grades were recently posted. In almost every class, 75-90% of his grades are based on homework (with the exception of tests). No grades for in-class work, no grade for participation.

Perfect normal kids do go to private schools, but not the academically rigorous local schools such as Menlo, Castilleja, Crystal Springs or Nueva.

Michelle - its great that your son found the school that works for him!


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:04 am

@paly parent -- not sure but I think you are saying that Priory is not rigorous like the other schools you listed. If that was supposed to be a burn, none taken. It's not true. Rigor and excessive stress are not the same thing. Many of the schools that you cite as "rigorous" are not offering a better curriculum just more homework, more competition, and less concern for the whole child. Yet the colleges their grads attend are no better. If you want to max on that dimension, you can buy my house and go to Gunn. In terms of Nueva I have heard great things about it, particular the SEL program there but I just can't get past the whole IQ test for admission. It gives me the creeps. Hopefully all the Nueva parents won't go nuts about that. IQ testing is known to be racially and class biased. And I think it's not necessarily good for kids to be in such a homogeneous setting or be told that they are "gifted" and "better than". What about working with people of all abilities as a social/emotional skill?

@menlo mom. I didn't think the middle school curriculum was anything especially good or bad. Middle school is generally regarded as not all that good by a lot of people in general which seems like a wasted opportunity. Two things -- there is definitely a semi-secret math track not included in the handbooks so that kids are constantly testing out of grade level math by prepping and working with tutors which creates excessive stress in math starting in 8th grade when the kids who have been prepping for 1-2 years to get into that Alg1H/Geo class are now in there with kids who weren't prepped. Jordan has a whole bunch of "off-menu" math going on over there. Parents in the know can take advantage (if you can call tutoring and prepping and taking two math classes at the same time an advantage) of these things and others are feeling anxious because they are competing with pre-cooked, pre-taught kids. In humanities, the PAUSD curriculum is weak relative to math/science all the way from 6-12. Paly journalism seems great though.






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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:50 am

Michele - leaving out Priory was unintentional, sorry! The math stress is now starting in 6th grade at Jordan, the kids are being tutored so they can skip 7th grade math (its now cool as a kid to do that, used to be more a parental thing). Our middle schools are pretty good at teaching math, but that may be more parental too. I found the science curriculum boring and focused totally on "the science notebook" instead of the actually science (and science is fascinating), writing instruction for both my kids was non-existentent at Jordan and very sporadic at Paly (a couple HS teachers were great at teaching writing). History/Social Studies was very well taught at both Jordan and Paly (with a small exception with one teacher who retired mid-year). The electives at both middle and high school are fabulous.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

Yeah, the science notebook thing is dull, you're right. I just remember that the syllabus for honors english at Gunn was all books from the 1960s and 70s. A lot of great literature has come and gone since the time that syllabus was constructed. Look, no school is perfect (Priory is close but it costs $$$$). There's a lot of good stuff going on in all these schools. But the excessive homework, tutoring, and competition for its own sake is unhealthy. I really challenge anyone to tell me how a student staying up until 1:00 am trying to complete all the work is having "rigor" rather than stress. It's totally unnecessary. It was not like this just a generation ago. I continue to believe that as a generation we have really failed our kids -- we have allowed the homework and pressure and competition to escalate rather than address core taxation and structural economic changes. We have forced our children to carry the burden for major social issues. And that is the "lucky" white upper class kids. Poor and black and brown kids get pre-prison instead of school.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

Michelle, I think your intentions are admirable in trying to reduce student stress. However, you are wasting your time by only focusing on getting the schools to change their ways. Mr. Colb is asking that parents lighten up. Don't push your kid to do APs, take summer classes in community colleges, have tutoring so you can get ahead of your peers, and oh yes, participate in three sports, one at least year round, with private coaching. The schools are offering what the parents ask for and that's what they do. I really wish you would back off the schools and start working on the parents in this community to understand that it is okay that your child doesn't go to Harvard, etc. Bragging in this community has become the sport of the parents.


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Posted by carte
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:15 am

My 5th grader is doing 10th grade math for the fun of it. No stress, just fun. That might change once he hits Jordan. We'll see.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:30 am

I understand what you think, parent. You have said it many times. I just don't agree with you that it is somehow easier to change the personal attitudes of 10000 parents than it is to change the regulations concerning homework of 5 schools. Getting 10000 parents to change their hearts is a fool's errand and also ignores the fact that schools are staffed by people who want the status of "professionals." A profession, unlike other occupations, receives less regulation in exchange for the exercise of judgment. You cannot claim to be both a professional and to abdicate judgment to the market (parents). Even if the problem is all parents (and I do not concede that) if staff want to claim the mantle of being in a profession as Mr. Kolb does, then they have to step up and cannot just excuse placing our kids under extreme stress by saying that it is what parents want. If the professional literature of their profession consistently returns evidence from research about what works and what doesn't but they ignore evidence from research to give in to the market then they are not professionals, they're merely clerks and they can be replaced by Coursera or Khan Academy.


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Posted by menlo mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:33 am

@michele

You're not impressed by the Menlo middle school - fine. My daughter gets up every day with a skip in her step. She absolutely LOVES Menlo. I couldn't care less about a secret math track. She loves to learn. She comes home everyday and recounts all the great things that happened in various classes. It's the right place for her. For my family, that's more than enough. You can parse math curriculum all day long and it won't change the fact that my daughter is happy.

My point in joining this forum discussion was to try to encourage people to respect the various school choices and embrace parents and families who have made different choices than others. Every school can be stressful if it's the wrong match.

If you want to find fault with what I've said, that's fine, but I'm done.


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Posted by Grateful
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by isez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm

isez is a registered user.

The students who overdue APs/Honors courses are ultimately being pushed by their parents. Maybe not currently, but somewhere along the way, they got it in their minds that this is their parents' goal for them. I feel sorry for these students who are lacking in sleep and normal social skills and who might later in life feel anger towards these years of studying like an adult. Sure, there are students who can handle it all, take it in stride, push themselves, and are well-adjusted. But the college game is so over-the-top these days that many of those who enter the highest ranking schools (who are not athletes) have some sort of social deficiency. I spoke with a student who was admitted to MIT and Harvard and he spoke in tweets!

Don't let this thread scare you. There is only a small quantity of students who overdue the APs or skip grade levels in certain subjects (usually math or world language). We live in a geek city - of course there are going to be those ones who are naturally, exceptionally gifted; I haven't met a socially acceptable one yet. But it's not the norm. Finding out where your children fit in academically so they can stay healthy and happy is the parent's goal. Regular lanes in PAUSD are doable if your child completes the homework.

To the poster whose children now attend Woodside Priory, please leave PAUSD alone now. You've already made your points on these threads.


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Posted by marketing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

marketing is a registered user.

"Priory's slogan is "every child is known and loved for who they are""
Wow, way to be suckered by marketing. Both these schools are competitive and supportive as evidenced by the 6th grader doing 9th grade math and the extremely happy student at Menlo. Notice that it's that way around - the "whole" student at Menlo and the hot-house student at Priory? Sort of a big giveaway.
Seriously, this is marketing 101. Everyone wants to think they bought the right stuff. "I'm paying megabucks for Priory so I have to convince myself and everyone else it's the right decision otherwise what will they think?"
Back to the article. All you can say is the HM of Menlo is standing up to challenge the parents expectations, unlike the HM or Priory.


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