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School board to discuss alumni survey Tuesday

Original post made on Nov 12, 2012

Results from a survey of Palo Alto high school graduates will be among the topics of discussion by the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, November 12, 2012, 2:49 PM

Comments (30)

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Posted by cafe life
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Interesting that only 30% of Paly graduates considered themselves to be socially fully ready for college compared to 46% of similar schools. Says a lot about the focus in our high-schools.


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Posted by Gunn parent of 2011 grad
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm

fyi, the report is for PAUSD, not just Paly. Only 84 kids or 37% of the responses are from Paly. But I agree with your observation that many parents overlook teaching their children appropriate social skills (ie living with a roommate) and how to handle an active yet safe college social life. But to keep it in perspective, my daughter's freshman roommate who was not from PAUSD did not even finish her freshman year. She came from a small girl's Catholic high school and really couldn't navigate the many choices available once outside her high school bubble. After a semester of repeated over-drinking, with my daughter having to call 911 on one occasion, she left school. We parents have to work to improve on 68% feeling prepared or very prepared.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

What is interesting to me is that of those who are not making the requirements, there is such a high percentage of those needing to improve world languages and also English.

I think it strange then that there is no move to start teaching World languages earlier than 7th grade. Learning a foreign language does not only improve the ability to do well in a foreign language if started early, but also improves English ability. Things like English grammar and comprehension are understood so much better when effort has been put into learning a foreign language.

I also wonder if English skills would be improved more by reading aloud more often and also by less use of spell and grammar checks by a computer.

We spend a lot of time assuming that science and math must be improved by our lower performing students (and the data above shows that is the case), but the data shows that there are gaps in English and World languages also and this must be addressed too.


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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Ducatigirl is a registered user.

Actually, from my own personal experience, it was easier learning a foreign language before kindergarten than in the 6th and 7th grades. In some European countries, like Luxembourg and the Netherlands, school children start learning other languages in kindergarten. It seems best to learn new languages at the same time as your native one, and not much later.

But, then, this country is miles behind most of the rest of the world in education. And that is condemning us to being a third-rate power.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm

> It seems best to learn new languages at the same time as
> your native one, and not much later.

Teaching language structure (ie--syntax and semantics) is not easily taught to young children. Yes, they can pick up the vocabulary and mimic their word sounds--but they are not really learning the language, just learning how to converse casually.

The Dutch are a bit of a special case for language needs. Since they have English to the West, and German to the East, Spanish/French/Flemish to the South--they need to be well versed in as many languages as possible. If memory serves, they require high school students to show some mastery of four languages before graduation.


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Posted by Language buff
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 12, 2012 at 7:16 pm

I have noticed that if a child learns an additional language before the age of ten they have perfect pronunciation and speak it like it were their native tongue. I don't know what it is about that magic number. I have observed the accents of children of graduate students at Stanford and have been totally flabbergasted when I hear the child at a very young age speak perfect English without the hint of an accent. This would suggest to me that children under that age are able to hear subtle sounds which they are able to mimic much better than older children. I think learning conversational language in schools at a younger age would be fine (perhaps through immersion?) but don't think it is necessary to teach the grammar to those children. They pick it up just in the speaking. I really didn't learn the parts of speech and grammar well until I took a language in high school. It was then I realized how woefully unknowledgeable I was in the parts of speech!


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Posted by annie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm

You can find Kevin Skelly saying there is no evidence that it's easier to learn a second language at an early age (Spring 2008 School Board meeting- either April or May)... these and so many other of his ridiculous statements are part of the official school board meetings...which are taped.
... but I thought this article was about the survey of Palo Alto graduates?


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Posted by Language Buff
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 12, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Annie: You are right, this thread got off track; however, I find your remembrance of a statement made by Skelly to be hilarious. Yes, he has made many more ridiculous statements at board meetings and I glad you referenced one apropos to learning a second language. Gave me a chuckle!

Back to the survey of Palo Alto graduates...............


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Posted by Gunn has better a-g stats
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

There is quite a difference in the number of students who did not get through the UC's a-g requirements in our high schools: 106 Paly and 66 Gunn.

Could that difference have anything to do with the a-g advice delivered under the two different counseling models?


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Posted by Yes of course
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2012 at 8:11 am

@Gunn has better a-g stats: Yes, it must be the difference in counseling models. Students at Paly are lulled into complacency by the explanations of A-G and the help in constructing 4 year plans they get from TAs, while students at Gunn have to put out the effort to figure this stuff out on their own. It's that old saw about teaching a man to fish versus giving him a fish (except for the teaching to fish part, maybe it should be the necessity is the mother of invention one).


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Posted by cafe life
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

@GP
You are correct.
@GHBAGS
Only indirectly. Web Link
"Because [Paly] must compensate the teacher advisers, who volunteer for the job, Paly spends several hundred thousand dollars more on its counseling program than Gunn, which directs similar resources toward smaller English classes."

As English is the top reason for failing a-g requirements there probably is a correlation. Forcing Gunn to give up these smaller English classes to fund TA adoption does sound like a backwards step.


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Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

My parents spoke a foreign language to me in infancy and early childhood. I did not speak English until I was almost ready for kindergarten. I was also grew up in an area with many African Americans in the population. Not only did I speak my parents' language with perfect pronunciation, but I could mimic perfectly the "Ebonics" that some black people speak. I've since lost the foreign language skill, due to lack of use, but I believe that if I were in the company of native speakers, I'd pick it up again quickly. (my command of Ebonics has faltered as well) I agree with those who say that early training or exposure to other languages leads to better fluency and skills.


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Posted by gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

GO GUNN !!!


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Posted by PA family
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I took over parenting a Paly grad when she was 17. She did not graduate A-G but still managed to graduate from a CSU in four years, and a master of education from a UC the following year. She was extremely responsible in college, unlike in high school with her academics, and regularly made the deans list. Took her getting out of Palo Alto to see what she could accomplish. Sometimes having superior social skills helps your success in college.


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Posted by Yes of course
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

@cafe life: You are right, that would be a backwards step. I guess another option would be to take the school board up on its offer to provide additional resources to fix counseling? On the other hand, why should Gunn students get both smaller English classes and better counseling?


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Posted by data please?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm

The thing is that we have only 2 years of data here, showing a large improvement. However, if you recall last year was extremely bad for URM a-g completion. Without showing each year in the last five rather than just 2008 and 2012 the picture is shown to be one of an upward trajectory rather than one with a lot of variation, due to the small numbers problem.

Paly and Gunn serve different populations and different numbers of URM students, which accounts in part for their different a-g completion rates. In each case, more data, including the "N" for each school in each category and more years of data are required in order to develop any theory of what is going on and how to address it.

For example in 2011, the picture was less rosy than the one for 2012 for both schools:

Paly: 46% of latino students (17/37) and 17% of black students (2/12) graduated a-g
Gunn: 42% of latino students (13/31) 20% of black students (1/5) graduated a-g

The data for several prior years available on data quest is not accurate (showing 100% a-g for all students). It is therefore hard to figure out exactly what is going on. But looking at all the data rather than just picking 2 years which may well be aberrant is not informative, particularly when, for example at Gunn there are far fewer URM students overall, and specifically fewer African American students.

Gunn's proportions of URM graduating a-g is essentially the same as Paly's over time.

What is different between the two schools is the satisfaction of minority students with their counseling system, which is much much higher: Web Link

Gunn should adopt an advisory counseling model to improve the connectedness of minority students and Paly could, if it chose, implement some form of the college pathways program.

Smaller english classes are not as important as good college advising, good counseling, and strong connections to teachers who explain a-g and help with schedule changes.


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Posted by cafe life
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm

"Smaller english classes are not as important"
Even when 136/172 students are missing English and it's the main reason for them not meeting the A-G requirements?
But we do need more data. Breaking that number down to how many are missing English at Gunn vs. Paly would be very useful.


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Posted by data please?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Yeah, if there was any evidence that smaller class sizes in freshman english was the reason that seniors met the a-g english requirement then that could matter. But the class size difference is at most 1-2 students per class, and it is concentrated in freshman classes. That is very unlikely to be the difference in English a-g graduation rate. First of all, it is upperclass English that is not being taken, not freshman english. Second, we need to know whether students who realize that they are not going to make a-g due to algebra 2 and chemistry then stop taking that fourth year of english because there is no point for them. Third, you correctly note that we need to know whether there is any difference in the a-g english rates for the 2 schools. Based on CST English proficiency, probably not.

Gunn parents need to understand this so-called tradeoff and decide if a 1-2 person difference in one period out of 7 in one year out of 4 is worth having far worse counseling services for all students in all grades all four years. That seems like a very bad deal to me but most parents are making it without realizing that there is a better option.


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Posted by data please?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Here's a link to data compiled by We Can Do Better Palo Alto showing that there is substantial variability between the two high schools in minority a-g graduation rates, in part because of the small numbers. (Web Link). The spreadsheet shows the number of overall graduates and A-G graduates for African-American and Hispanic students for the last six years at the two high schools. In 2011, in fact, Paly exceeded Gunn in the percentage of A-G graduates for African-American students, Hispanic students, and (of course) minority students overall.

To quote We Can Do Better's Ken Dauber, who prepared this data in response to an inquiry last year, "the fairest summary of the data, though, is that given the small numbers of minority graduates each year most of these differences aren't significant, and that there is no real basis for concluding that either one of the high schools has a significantly better record for graduating minority students with A-G."

Obviously this disproves the claim above by "Gunn has better a-g stats" that Gunn's counseling system is superior because its a-g stats are better -- they aren't. PAUSD should decide how to address a-g and counseling with real data so that we can make informed decisions. Making spurious claims and supporting them with non-supportive evidence is not helpful.


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Posted by cafe life
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm

"Obviously this disproves the claim above by "Gunn has better a-g stats" that Gunn's counseling system is superior because its a-g stats are better -- they aren't. "
Actually it doesn't. The referenced data is skewed towards sub-groups and ignoring that Gunn is doing an overall better job. At least looking at the raw results, which we both agree is insufficient to make any further calls.
Improving the dis-proportionality of those failing is a separate issue, which your results show wouldn't improve by Gunn adopting Paly's TA model.


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Posted by Fun
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm

It is fun to see you guys fight over little scraps of data like it shows something. Gunn is better; TA is better; class sizes are smaller; grad rates are lower - the numbers of tiny and the samples are anything be unbiased, so the stats tell us - nothing. It is all just statistical flotsam and jetsam bandied about by folks with little or no visibility about what really goes on in the schools and classrooms, but with great armchair analysis skills.

Luckily the know it alls usually confine themselves to forums like these and just waste each other's time. When it spills over to the school board's time, that's a shame - though since only ~5-10 people attend a meeting, and most don't last till the end, it is mostly just the board members themselves (and staff) who suffer. Hopefully this nonsense will get the appropriate attention from the board and staff!


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Posted by Palo verde parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

@data please? "Second, we need to know whether students who realize that they are not going to make a-g due to algebra 2 and chemistry then stop taking that fourth year of english because there is no point for them. Third, you correctly note that we need to know whether there is any difference in the a-g english rates for the 2 schools. Based on CST English proficiency, probably not."

Four years of English was a graduation requirement for PAUSD last year. So all students who graduated took and passed 4 years of English. The reason a student is not A-G in English is because he/she did not earn a C- or better in each semester of English NOT because the student did not take English.


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Posted by Gunn parent of 2011 grad
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm

@data please? Gunn English classes are a mix of freshmen and sophomores, so the smaller English class sizes are for 2 years, not just freshman year.

I agree with Fun. The posters here often have limited knowledge of what really goes on in the schools, but take one data point and think they know the whole story. Spend some more time at the school and less time online and you all might learn something useful.


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Posted by data please?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 14, 2012 at 9:55 am

look again. Not all the english classes for ELL are a-g certified "b" courses.


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Posted by Palo verde parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 14, 2012 at 10:14 am

@data please?

"Not all the english classes for ELL are a-g certified "b" courses." This is true but my point was that we can't blame math and science for everything. It sounded like you were saying that students were possibly short in English because they had "given up" because of math or science. I highly doubt that is the case. I also doubt students were not A-G ONLY because of an ELL english class. My guess is that many of the non A-G students have taken the A-G courses but did not earn a C- or better. Our new graduation requirements will not do much to address this problem, since a D will still count for graduation but not for A-G


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Posted by data please?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

Most kids who miss a-g are missing more than one thing. Without doing an empirical investigation of the trajectories of these specific kids it is impossible to know exactly how they arrived in the place that they did. But URM kids are typically missing Algebra 2 and lab science as well as 1 year of english. The hows and whys of when they fell off track, how they got there, and whether they at some point became discouraged from continuing to try are all empirical questions that are eminently answerable but as yet unanswered.

My primary point is that Gunn's 'better' record on a-g is due to the fact that it has a lower proportion of URM students not to some feature of something that is going on at Gunn that is better than at Paly and certainly not attributable to its demonstrably inferior counseling system in which freshman and sophomores routinely never obtain 4 year plans. TA is superior in getting kids on track for a-g simply because in the case of those D grades, there is someone tracking them, meeting with the students, and ensuring an action is taken. For example at Paly, there is an entire structure for supporting kids who are not meeting their a-g that was just put into place and every student who is getting a D or F is having a meeting with Phil Winston. So it's just better at supporting kids by providing more points of contact and advising.


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Posted by you must not go to Gunn
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm

data please?

You said: "My primary point is that Gunn's 'better' record on a-g is due to the fact that it has a lower proportion of URM students"

The district's stats show that Gunn had 45 URMs and Paly 48 URMs in their senior classes last year -- not a big enough difference to note let alone base conclusions on as to why Paly had 40 fewer students complete a-g than Gunn did.

Web Link

Last year Gunn had a 60% URM a-g completion rate compared to Paly's 45.8%. Both schools' performance has improved over time.

I question your derogatory, unsubstantiated statement about Gunn ("its demonstrably inferior counseling system in which freshman and sophomores routinely never obtain 4 year plans").

Clearly you have an axe to grind but if you can put that aside for a spell check out earlier Town Square posts which show student survey results demonstrating that there is lots that students like about Gunn's counseling system and it shines in many important areas when compared to Paly's.

BTW - My friends' kids got 9th grade class selection help in middle school before going over the Gunn and got the rest of their plan well before their junior year.



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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Data please - the Paly TA system has its benefits, but it is only as good as the TA your child is assigned. They do NOT routinely check for a-g requirements or meet with students about having a D or F. And every student having a D or F does not meet with Mr. Winston either.


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Posters have digressed onto the topic of world language so this is directed at the subject. I have a child who studied Spanish from 7th - 12th grades because it was easy for her. However, she witnessed many students struggling. Those who think world language should be forced upon our children should visit a PAUSD Spanish class at Jordan or Paly someday. The teachers force-feed Spanish and do not allow ANY English to be spoken in class, beginning in Spanish 1A in 7th grade. I know of many students who have given up at Jordan and had to repeat at Paly because they make it so difficult at Jordan.

Meanwhile, other high schools such as M-A or Mtn. View High allow students to speak English in class until they reach 4AP, where they must speak all Spanish.

When I graduated from Paly in 1979, we didn't need to speak much in class and we could still fulfill the college requirement of 2 years without much pain.

If world language is necessary for students to be accepted into colleges, PAUSD must dumb it down a level so regular students can survive too. Those who wish to be fluent in Spanish upon graduation can skip levels to get there, but the system should not force everyone to be fluent while taking away time from more essential English, math, science studies. Isn't the idea to orient students to a world language? Not according to our Spanish teachers.


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Posted by agreed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

World languages are killer in PAUSD - especially the Spanish text which is also used at the college level. Some teachers understand the variability in aptitude and some don't. Thank God for our tutors and the teachers who "get it."


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