Anti-stress group holds annual conference this weekend Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Oct 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm
High schools around the country that have shifted their first-semester exams to before the December break "will not go back," according to Denise Clark Pope, a Stanford University senior lecturer widely known for her advocacy of stress-reduction efforts in schools.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 14, 2010, 5:02 PM
Posted by What good does this do?, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Oct 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm
What does this solve for children?
If they really wanted to lower stress, you know what they would do?
Perhaps make classes a little bit less of a gigantic workload.
Funny story, I was talking to my friends today about SAT scores. Someone said "yeah... I only got 1770 on my first try, it's pretty sad" and someone else said "well, I've heard of people at other schools who have 4.2 GPAs and they get 1800s on their SAT".
The reply: "Oh yeah well it's difference because it's gunn. a 4.2 is actually impressive here!"
If you're not smart enough to understand - getting a GPA equivalent to that of most other schools in the bay area - and even more so in america in general - is trivial compared to gunn.
I am a good student and attended summer classes at multiple different high school programs just to see what the difficulty was (NOTE: This was for credit, so it was real classes). I easily got 98s, 99s, and other A's in classes ranging from chemistry (which I took honors for in 10th grade and got a B in, twice), math (which I scraped an A in honors at gunn), english (which I got a B+ because of a teacher problem), and history (once again, a bunch more work at gunn than these classes).
Gunn basically has a huge workload, much more difficult testing, and much higher expectations for students... and parents are wondering why we're stressed out all the time?
I'm sick of going to school, only talking about schoolwork and tests and teachers, and going home and doing 4 hours of homework (and I'm only taking 1 AP!! my friends are taking 2, 3, even 4!!), then going to bed after attempting to do all the other things I like (practicing my instruments, playing video games, talking to my friends for once...)
Get with the program please gunn, the teachers are making things way too hard for us students, so only the super geniuses get good grades.
And by good I mean like a 4.0 in hard classes... because I want to go to Berkeley hopefully... maybe I should have just gone to Carlmont and been a Rank 1 student instead of going to Gunn and being just an 'above average but not excellent' student.
I get teased (playfully, but teased nonetheless) for only taking one AP this year because I'm a junior! A lot of people say I won't be able to get into any colleges like Stanford and berkeley and UCLA, and I'm starting to believe them, even though I have a weighted 4.0 myself!
Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 8:34 am
my takeaway from this article is that this huge disruptive calendar change being proposed is based on "no formal research". And there is anecdotal evidence to support either point of view. So maybe our community should stop and think a bit.
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:17 am
Paly Parent" writes:
"my takeaway from this article is that this huge disruptive calendar change being proposed is based on "no formal research". And there is anecdotal evidence to support either point of view. So maybe our community should stop and think a bit."
I agree that we should think this through -- and, perhaps, when we do it, do a study to attempt to measure its effectiveness.
That fact is that most educational decisions are based on anecdotal evidence. Is there any reason to think that the current schedule is optimal? No. Is there any reason to think that High Schools where everyone tries to take a massive number AP exams is "better"? No. Somebody in a magazine somewhere decided to "rate" high schools on this arbitrary basis, without a formal study, and we live with the consequences all over the country decades later.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:25 am
"Perhaps make classes a little bit less of a gigantic workload."
how did school become so out of control with workloads?
is there any measure of efficiency for these workloads?
Are there any teachers that manage to inspire kids, and teach them well without gigantic workloads?
we're killing the best part of our kids' lives with gigantic workloads, administrators should be held responsible for monitoring these loads because teachers will not change, they will each do their own thing.
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:26 am
For our family, "disruptive" is the fact that finals are after the break. For a good student, those tests hang over the entire family vacation. The teenager is stressed trying to study and the whole family is stressed by living with a cranky teenager who never got a real break.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:55 am
From reading what Gunn Student wrote above and what we hear on an almost daily basis from the media, the stress often comes from peer pressure or what we could call bullying. Because the kids are trying to outdo each other and play the "who's more stressed out", or "who's got the toughest workload" game, the kids are psychologically bullying each other to guilt themselves and their classmates.
Our kids are taking on gigantic workloads for many reasons. The college apps process, pushy parents, teachers who are afraid of pushy parents who complain about not enough homework or poor grades, and on top of that the peer pressure.
We need to get our kids focused on being kids first, being students second. We need to put some fun in their lives without it being competitive or "looks good on college apps". We need kids to be able to wind down at the weekend or during breaks without subtle pressures to do something of value. We need to let kids work out some of their own issues. We need to have younger adults in their lives who are not parents, or teachers, or coaches, but mentors and adult friends, who accept them for who they are as individuals.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 11:15 am
It's a multi-pronged issue. As a parent of college students, and a grad of one of the HS here, I believe that how to reduce student stress is NOT all that much about the teachers. It's one aspect, but not the major one. Most teachers here are high quality, as is most of the curriculum to my knowledge. Yes, there are a handful of teachers who shouldn't be employed here. Blame ridiculous teacher tenure schemes for that - another issue.
Student stress IS about college competition, which isn't restricted to Palo Alto, of course, however this competition is artificially elevated by certain unfortunate conditions right here(some in our control, some not). The naive person will get run over like a truck.
Getting one's education (hopefully, "learning," but I am not always sure that is the aim for some students and parents here) within an educated, motivated peer group is "good," of course. I am concerned with some it has become a game and a highly competitive one at that.
For one thing, college offers matter a great deal to many parents here. There can be what I think of as falseness in some people's dealings with "education" here.
With geographic distributions (colleges will only offer to a limited # of students, no matter how many are qualified or interested, from a certain school or city; UC rankings which were changed to disadvantage Palo Alto students compared to a high achiever from Santa Clara, say. PA kids are penalized to some degree in UC apps, as I understand it (my kids do not attend UCs)
This competition has ramped up to the point that there are some parent practices I find borderline unethical - extreme parental planning and artificial boosting of certain students that gives them a superior paper record and often phony trumped up credentials (owing to years of advanced costly tutoring and handholding); woe betide the unguided student who exists in a natural state, moving ahead like a "normal" HS student.
Some here arrange extreme travel advantages for show, extreme extra-curricular/community service schemes set up by certain parents(local newspapers in recent yrs had several outstanding examples).
Then there was the awful plagiarism incident at PALY (grad speaker, student body pres exposed as a plagiarist), which I found shameful and disheartening. This student was rewarded with a spot at a top local university (hint, hint, while worthy applicants were denied (many local students apply there).
Once again, I call for top private universities and colleges to use interviews to carefully assess the knowledge, character, intentions, motivations of their applicants. I have found some sort of oral discussion to be extremely useful in determining genuine students interested in biomedical eng vs. those who are told they will go into that field, for example.
Posted by gunn mom, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm
As long as we are on the subject of schedule changes to reduce stress - several years ago there was a lecture at Gunn about the sleep habits and need for sleep of teens. The message was that their internal clocks don't allow them to fall asleep before 10 pm for the most part (even if they go into bed at 8) and that they need at least 9 hours of sleep. This creates a situation where they will be chronically sleep deprived. There IS scientific evidence of this. If we want to change something in the schedule to get healthier kids, how about considering a later school start?
Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm
I have a child at Gunn and I think she would agree with "what good does this do". Given that science and often math finals at Gunn are before winter break she rarely studies over break and is often less stressed finals week than other weeks. Her comment was we can move finals, feel good about ourselves and solve 5% of the problem. Some of her suggestions - look at homework, set limits, make sure homework is consistent between teachers who are teaching same class, have test days so students don't have 5 tests on one day, really look at expectations for the students. Kids get B's at Gunn in their AP classes and the get a 5 on the test. It doesn't make sense.
Posted by Another Palo Alto parent, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm
If we really want to reduce stress as everyone says, lets not have the first semester exams lets just have end of the year finals. Also I have heard in some districts if you are receiving an A going into the exams you don't have to take the test.
Posted by gunn student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm
it's ironic because, most high advanced AP classes that are only for seniors have the lowest workloads, with little to no homework.
why is it that AP Economics doesn't need daily 1 hour of homework (it's a no homework class, YES there is an AP test at the end of the year, YES it is still a challenging class), yet Chemistry Honors needs 1-3 hours a night? That's a college class VS a 10th grade class, yet many will argue economics was easier than chemistry for them, at gunn.
These workloads are hard to diagnose why they exist, and I don't want to be harsh but although homework is warranted in things like math, science, history, anything more than 30 minutes - 1 hour is usually the result of the teacher not covering all the material and the students struggling to find information for their homework, or huge projects that are way over the students' heads.
Posted by gunn student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm
sorry, 30minutes - 1 hour per subject, I meant.
I mean, if I am a junior, taking 6-7 classes, and have an:
English reading and reading questions due (1 hour at least)
Biology AP homework (1 hour at least)
Math homework (30 minutes at least),
Language homework/studying (30 minutes at least, more for harder languages)
History notes (30 minutes at least)
That already adds up to 2.5 hours of daily homework, and that's just standard homework, not taking into account countless English Essays, Biology tests and labs, math tests and projects, language tests, history projects, etc etc all your other commitments, it really starts to add up.
Not to mention that the above numbers are usually just if you want to do everything quickly and not actually learn or do a great job. Imagine that times 1.5 or 2 if you want to really put effort into the mindless work we do.
My daily workload is about 4 hours...
I'm not saying homework should be banned but it really should be regulated a little more... I don't see why we can learn so much in class for an hour and still need to do another hour or two of that subject again that night...
Posted by Mountain View Mom, a resident of Mountain View, on Oct 15, 2010 at 2:05 pm
The students at Mountain View High proposed this change 5 or 6 years ago. The students asked for the change because they said that, instead of having a real break and enjoying the holidays, or traveling with their families, or just hanging out with friends, they were spending a large portion of their December break studying for high-stakes semester finals. The district tried it one year at Mountain View. Los Altos adopted it the next year. I think some teachers were skeptical at first; but the students & parent have been very happy with it. I think it's been a huge success, the kids can just relax and have fun over December break.
It makes the first semester a bit short, and the second a bit long. They did adjust the school start date to begin earlier (by a week, maybe?), but since MVLA has to deal with the feeder districts' schedules, it's not so easy to shift it too much. They need to get the elementary districts to shift theirs too. They did shift some, and begin a little earlier than they used to. PAUSD could easily shift the whole district's calendar so they started and ended earlier.
Posted by educator, a resident of Portola Valley, on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm
Couple things are clear on this issue:
--There are structural things schools can do (like moving finals before break) that are clearly helpful to many students
--Because so many students/families in this area (and others like it) strive to be admitted to a handful of prestigious colleges, an achievement arms-race is at play
--The move to standards-based education and high-stakes testing, where teachers are under the gun to "cover" so much material, has unfortunately created an educational climate where the focus is more on "filling the pail" than "lighting the fire." As a result, students are becoming knowers and performers rather than learners.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm
I think the homework load in PAUSD vs. other places (and I have lots of high school and college age family all over the country) is partly due to parents who have pressured the teachers into giving more homework because more must be better.
A lot of homework is just busy work which does not prepare you for your class (or for college). Reading the text in order to be prepared for the next day, practicing math problems, writing up a lab, studying for a quiz - all valuable homework. Coloring a poster, cooking for a language class, making a video for the same language class, the "learning" definitely does not add up to the amount of time spent on the work.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 5:40 pm
"These workloads are hard to diagnose why they exist, and I don't want to be harsh but although homework is warranted in things like math, science, history, anything more than 30 minutes - 1 hour is usually the result of the teacher not covering all the material and the students struggling to find information for their homework, or huge projects that are way over the students' heads."
you are not being harsh at all, it's an understatement that it's difficult to diagnose work overload problems and the teachers or subjects that cause it.
Educator hits the nail on the head -
"The move to standards-based education and high-stakes testing, where teachers are under the gun to "cover" so much material, has unfortunately created an educational climate where the focus is more on "filling the pail" than "lighting the fire." As a result, students are becoming knowers and performers rather than learners.."
the teachers should be the frontline to deal with work overload
you bring up
"I'm not saying homework should be banned but it really should be regulated a little more.."
that would be a solution to some of these problems, a little more regulation of work overload
Posted by Big Picture, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm
The district should survey the students...it is only fair to gain their feedback with such a significant change. What I keep hearing is that the schedule is not the primary stress driver. We need to listen more to the students. And stop making changes unilaterally.
How will the district address the 2011 summer if this new schedule is approved? A few years ago, there was a 9 week summer and it was terrible for the students. The community was outraged and it was reversed to a 10 week summer. I also am very concerned with the constant changes that the district makes. I appreciate the good intention, but at what point is the change itself more disruptive than not.
Re: Finals...WHY...WHY, WHY... in the past decade have finals in HS become so popular. STOP the entire "FINALS" policy. Don't students get ENOUGH exams...this is crazy. When HS students get to college they will be at an age to handle finals...let's let them be in HS for the sake of HS!! The poor kids barely step into HS and everyone wants to PREPARE them for college...we need to STOP this and it must be done by setting administrative policies that put the brakes on unnecessary workload and distracts from learning for "TODAY," not five years away for college.
Posted by mom of a college student, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 15, 2010 at 10:16 pm
Hi Gunn Student
I sympathize with your comments and totally understand your predicament. Since a solution is being discussed but will not impact your time at Gunn, let me share what some other families have done as a personal way to manage the issue of too much stress. First they don't encourage their kids to take all the hardest classes, rather to pace themselves to take what they believe is enough for that child. After graduating from Paly or Gunn, their children go to Foothill, either in the honors department or the regular classes. You can sign a transfer agreement (TAG) to the UC's and a special agreement for UCLA (TAP) which guarrantees admission to these schools after two years if you meet academic requirements. What I have heard from these parents is that standards you would need to meet to qualify for a TAG for TAP are very doable for kids who have done well at Paly or Gunn but not "well enough" to get into, as you want, say Berkeley or another UC. I am sharing this because I want you to know you have options. Life is big and long and there are many ways to achieve your goals. Consider going online and reading about this option. And by the way, I know some of these kids who have done this and they are some of the most well adjusted, happy kids I know, and I bet they are going to have a happy, successful life, achieved at their pace and on their terms, not someone else's. Good luck and remember, you have wonderful options!
Posted by Wondering Why, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Oct 16, 2010 at 7:42 am
Wonderful comment by Gunn Student. This student is a good student, able to take AP classes. Consider the student who, while extremely bright, is dyslexic, or has other learning issues. These students usually aren't able to take the AP classes because the pace is so fast. Many of these students give up a sport or other activity because their homework takes them twice as long to do and if they continue another activity they might find fun, they are up to 1am trying to get homework done. The workload is certainly overbearing. My guess is if students were polled, we'd find a lot more unhappy, overstressed HS students in PAUSD. Why are we taking the joy out of what should be some of their most memorable years? Why don't we listen to them? Give them a voice in their education? What is so important about using a final exam for a measurement tool when there are other creative, interesting ways to measure progress?
Posted by studentdks, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Oct 16, 2010 at 11:45 am
I don't think students are competing with one another. It's just that the AP classes is a lot of busy work (like pointless APUSH notes) and difficult homework (teachers teaching the material the day after the homework for the new material is assigned)
Also, there needs to be more places at Gunn to relax. The Academic center is one place because of Mr. Lira, but the admin pretty much made him want to quit--so he did. Now what are we going to do?
Posted by Take action please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 17, 2010 at 10:04 am
So many interesting posts of support and ideas for problem-solving... but are any of the concerns and ideas in these posts reaching the ears and minds of those in a position to bring about Change (District Office, individual schools, most teachers, most parents)?
Rumor has it they stay away from PA Online because "the posts are so mean-spirited" and "negative". We know what they are referring to, but it's an over-generalization that keeps them away from a valuable community dialogue. I read nearly universal concern (for the Gunn student who led us off and for our HS students in general), thoughtful comments and some suggested solutions.
It may be that Criticism and the Push for Change is what makes school leaders uncomfortable (and paralyzed) - so even the reasoned comments in this thread (and others related to it) may be mischaracterized or ignored (if read).
PLEASE express your same thoughts and concerns IN PERSON (or at least in direct emails) to your school leaders - at a School Board meeting, or face-to-face with the Superintendent and his staff, principals, site councils.
Please show up and be heard. At the very least students will hear, see, feel that a good number of adults DO care.
Posted by Another parent, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2010 at 7:40 am
I hear so many parents saying they care more about their childrens' well being more than about their achievement levels and that it is everybody else who is over the top in pushing their children. But these same parents are mercilessly driving their children in order to keep up with everybody else. What they really mean is, why can't everyone else let up on their kids so it will be easier for mine to beat the competition. This is denial. It takes a lot of effort to stay out of this rat race to nowhere. It takes a lot of effort to actually make your child's well being the focus rather than your own drive to use your child as a proxy in the contest.
Posted by unfortunately, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jan 11, 2013 at 8:58 am
@Another parent.You've hit the nail on the head. We had the chance with the last election to have a board member who shares and acts on the values you mention but unfortunately the district staff and hangers-on such as Mandy Munger and that gang worked very hard to make sure that viewpoint was not represented. Instead the more pressure crowd won narrowly after using dirty tricks, whispering, and negative campaigning. Now it is up to parents to hold the board that was elected accountable for holding the line against higher pressure, reverting to the "elite admissions" calendar which puts thousands of children under stress for the benefit of a privileged few who apply to elite colleges but who enhance the district reputation, to implement a stress-reducing advisory program at Gunn, and so forth. These goals will be harder to achieve with the board that was elected but if parents organize and unite it is possible to hold the line against a return to maximum high pressure policies. Good luck.
Posted by Whatever, a member of the Duveneck School community, on Jan 11, 2013 at 11:36 am
@unfortunately: Her name is Mandy Lowell - she uses her maiden name. Her husband has a new dorm named after him on Campus Drive at Stanford. Her daughter is a Junior. . . wonder where she will attend college or if she even has to lift a finger in school. I think it was more of an issue of that one candidate being extremely difficult to work with.