A champion for charter schools Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Mar 8, 2013 at 9:30 am
Six years after rocking the Palo Alto education scene with a threat to petition for a charter school here, Grace Mah finds herself in the vanguard of a major charter-school drive as president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 8, 2013, 9:01 AM
Posted by An L.A. Neighbor Who Cares About P.A., a resident of Los Altos, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:01 am
Before serious consideration of a Charter School in Palo Alto, I would urge the Palo Alto Board to look carefully at the history and public school impact of the Bullis Charter School in Los Altos.
We are another affluent community of outstanding public schools with a percentage of low income students as well. The arrogant demands and continuous litigation of BCS against our 9 public schools have taken a financial toll as well as a disheartening emotional impact as well. The obvious deep pocket wealth of the BCS community enables it to sue our public schools over and over again. In the latest instance - we have asked BCS to withhold move lawsuits while negotiations are taking place. They have not only refused to do that but have threatened more suits. Be very careful.....
Posted by kim S., a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:48 am
Bullis was suing the Los Altos School district because they weren't be given their fair share of land and facilities according to the law. I'm sure it also riles the LASD that Bullis continues to be one of the top performing schools in the state.
Posted by another parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm
Why does public education in CA still support social promotion? It just helps to keep moving up students who can't read or write to the grade level and thus ensures more failure. Other states are getting rid of it. Just common sense, especially after k-2. I understand we want the kids to have high self esteem but being moved up without the necessary skills is just not helpful. Why do we have social promotion? It disproportionately affects poor students I'm sure.
Posted by Member, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm
Responding to Kim S's comment about Bullis' performance. Bullis seems indeed to be a great school but LASD, like PAUSD, also have some of the top performing schools in the state and an immense amount of parent involvement. A key difference with Bullis Charter is that LASD schools have always been comprised of children coming from varied socio economic backgrounds, english proficiency, and/or physical and mental capabilities. Although Bullis Charter has recently done outreach to non english speaking/less affluent communities- it does not accomodate children with more serious disabilities and -due to its neighborhood preference for Los Altos Hills- has up to now mostly been comprised of children whose parents who could afford its $5k+ yearly tuition. As much as I can understand the need for charters in situations where children are poorly educated, it really makes no sense in LASD-- all it has done is create incessant fights over limited resources.
Posted by Marty, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] She wanted her son to learn Mandarin and didn't want to teach him herself or pay for it herself so she [portion removed] the school district until she got what she wanted and didn't care if it took resources from the majority of other students. She was going to get what she wanted the rest of the community be damned!
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:49 pm
And who looked to gain the most with the MI program? The two thirds of the class who have no Mandarin experience and would otherwise not have a smidgen of a chance to learn this language in preparation for their future global citizenship.
Posted by Clever politics, not public service., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Charter schools work well in SOME situations. They also can do harm to the districts they reside in. It is a complex arrangement that turns over public school resources to a charter program while relieving the charter school of some important service obligations of public schools. This is NOT good for the district as a whole in districts like Palo Alto. That is why the Bullis Charter has been so controversial. Bullis has behaved badly toward families with less financial resources and toward special ed. children. They are behaving like an exclusive private school, while they take public school resources. They get away with this because they are a charter school, yet they TAKE resources from the public schools who are required to serve everyone. Taxpayers, be very careful what you support.
It looks to me like Ms. Mah is working hard at setting precedents and building coalitions because her MI fight in Palo Alto is not done. She has said in the past that she wants a permanent home for MI, its own school. This could be in the next PAUSD elementary school to be opened. The County Board has the power to force PAUSD to provide an MI charter school at a new site, and she is building strategic alliances on the County Board which could enable her to force her will on Palo Alto.
In wealthy and high performing districts, some parents use charter schools to force public school districts to provide special services they want--boutique programs for a select few. Ms. Mah used the threat of a charter school in the past to force the district's hand. With County Board majority support, Ms. Mah could recuse herself and still have a very strong hand to play.
Clever politics...but self service should not be mistaken for public service.
Posted by Free market, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 1:23 pm
I think that the competition of a couple of charter schools would be great kfor the PAUSD district in general. Charter schools usually have better teachers, better classes, better communication with parents, and better perception about what is needed most for real-world success.
More importantly, they do not hire administrators who blow off legitimate complaints!
Posted by Amy, a member of the Ohlone School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm
Thank you, Grace, for leading the charge for MI. As non-Asian parents, we wanted our kids to learn Mandarin for lots of reasons, and we're thrilled with the results. Grace and her supporters made it possible, and we are so grateful to them.
Posted by former Ohlone parent, a member of the Ohlone School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm
I totally agree with Marty! She represents the changing character of Palo Alto parents who push and threaten on behalf of their own personal cause at any price. MI at Ohlone? The two "cultures" couldn't be more different. MI is an opportunity for a few at the cost of those on a waiting list for Ohlone's program. Glad my children have graduated out of PAUSD. Glad I left Ohlone.
Posted by mhardi01, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm
Sounds like the sniping I see every day at the office. Many teams fighting for limited resources. But the best ideas should win out, given a fair, competitive environment -- whatever the product including education. We love our P.A. schools but it's always useful to have additional options and points of comparison, whether via charters, vouchers or private schools.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm
Charter schools, as a lot, have not really lived up to the hype that was offered to the Legislature--which passed enabling legislation some years back.
Using the STAR data that is available to the public, the aggregate test scores for the Charter schools is not really very different than those of the public schools. Yes, there are a few cases which post high standardized test scores, for the most part, this experiment has not produced anything of real value for California, its students, businesses and taxpayers.
It's high time for the Legislature to schedule a serious review of this program. Unless these schools can produce some evidence that they really are doing some good--this program is little more than a distraction.
Additionally, the Legislature should also schedule a review of the public school system, and get to the bottom of why it is performing so poorly.
Posted by Another former Ohlone parent, a member of the Ohlone School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm
Former Ohlone parent,
MI didn't take away seats from Ohlone's existing program; instead, it was an add-on program with a separate lottery and separate wait list. I doubt Ohlone would have had the new building without the additional MI program. If you are a former parent, how could you not know this?
My child started at Ohlone not long before the MI started. I wish the MI had started earlier. Thank you, Grace, for bringing this program to our community. I think Ohlone has become a better and more inclusive place thanks to MI.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm
The MI pilot (or experiment) has been going for several years now.
However, all the other language programs throughout the District have not progressed. The classes in the high school level are large with little or no technological aids in the classrooms. When I was in high school language labs were common and so this is not a new idea. Even in the slower paced middle school classrooms, technology for language teaching is practically nil. Yes they all use computer programs, but this is still far behind the language labs in the good old 20th century where they can listen and repeat and the teacher can listen in to hear accents.
As for FLES, that too is non existent except for the boutique lotteries. The rest of our elementary students get no public school foreign language programs.
Grace Mah has to take the blame for this. We now have a two tier language program for lucky lottery winners. All or nothing. What is equitable about this?
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm
> Yes they all use computer programs, but this is still far
> behind the language labs in the good old 20th century where
> they can listen and repeat and the teacher can listen in to
> hear accents.
If this is true, then this is another example of just how out-of-touch this School Board is. The District has passed two rather large capital bonds for education over the past 15 years or so. The last one--Measure A--was for $375M. Old-style language labs are not that expensive to build, and run. Newer technology would use the Internet, and would be even less expensive to build.
If there is a "technology" problem in the language programs in general, then the MI program can be be blamed. Look to the Department Heads, the Superintendent, and the Board. Seems that some of the same people keep popping up as big disappointments, and failures, in the PAUSD.
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm
In the words of Ms. Mah, Charter schools should to provide opportunities for under-served students, yet her first foray into the Charter school world was a threat to pursue a Charter school in Palo Alto for Mandarin Immersion when the Board said no to her request to add a Mandarin Immersion program. PAUSD students are not exactly underserved, nor are we a failing District.
Posted by new appreciation, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:58 pm
I hope everyone will look back and what happened with the MI rancor and let the past be past. We are a district that can afford to have this program, it's an educational asset, and given our dysfunctional district, Grace showed incredible patience to have jumped through all the district hoops for 5 years, all the while district people leading the MI group on without saying no or doing anything.
They do that in this district -- dishonestly lead parents on, hoping they'll get worn down and go away. It does a lot of damage in lost trust and opportunities, but they never learn, because the top leadership doesn't have the tiniest inkling of how to work with parents nor any interest. It took a lot of courage for Grace to be the public lightning rod when she had to do what she did in order to finally get something done, one way or another.
A lot of people were upset because they thought the MI program should have been part of the strategic plan, but given how dysfunctional our district is, that was just never going to happen.
I think she's shown solid leadership at the county, and deserved her re-election.
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 5:38 pm
new appreciation, MI may be an educational asset, but only to the small number of students allowed in the program. It is not an asset to the rest of the elementary students with no foreign language instruction, it is not an asset to the kids with larger 4 and 5 grade classrooms (both Mi an SI attrition can only be filled with students fluent in that foreign language at grade level) and it was.not an asset to the long waiting list / lottery for the regular ohlone program.
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm
BTW parents were not upset at MI not being part of the strategic plan, they were upset at FLES not bring part of the plan. FLES would have provided language to ALL the elementary kids, not just a couple hundred. Parents were also upset at the BOE being bullied into a decision that was the least costly rather thsn the right one for the whole District.
Posted by Not Stupid, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:25 pm
Interesting juxtaposition of articles. Incompetent PAUSD District staff bungle disability based bullying and end up getting sited by the Feds. Don't hold Tom, Mitchell and Skelly accountable because it could be a lot worse - enter the boogie man - Grace Mah and charter schools. Nope. We can take Skelly and crew to the woodshed and Grace can whistle dixie.
Or even darker: Tom, Mitchell, Mah and Munger (Lowell) are all whipping out the cubans and the port and toasting to our privatized future as the chumps they hired screw up and they swoop in to save the day.
Posted by For public schools, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm
People often say, as one poster does above, that they want to choose how their tax dollars are spent, and so they should be able to choose a specific program for their child's education ("everyone should have the right to decide to have their tax dollars go to the school of their choice"). They will then say that charter schools are designed to give people choice, and are essentially equivalent to vouchers.
No, they are not. That is not good policy. Public schools must take all comers. What happens with charters is they end up selecting the "easy" kids, because they can reject the tough ones, and/or because only the privileged/educated parents bother to apply. The charters then go and tout their wonderful scores, while the public schools are left over with a concentration of much harder kids to educate. This has been repeated in district after district -- it's pretty horrifying.
People love segregation. They want their kids in with the privileged/easy kids. But that is not what public schools are about.
Charter schools are not meant to provide a discount on a private education. Charter schools are designed to serve kids that are struggling in under-performing districts. One of the key metrics for a charter school is an API decile of 4 (that is deemed to be a success). Charter schools have been misappropriated by profit-seeking ventures and by segregation-loving parents. But that is bad policy, and not what they are intended for.
I certainly understand that we pay a massive amount in taxes. Do I ever. But as much as we'd like our taxes to fund elite educational institutions for our kids, they don't, and they shouldn't.
Posted by another Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm
I think foreign languages should be dealt with in a comprehensive way K-12. I thought the MI program with the charter threat was the wrong thing to do, aiming for racial segregation, benefiting the few, and offering something widely available here in the private school and after school and weekend school sectors.
Bullis Charter School has been incredibly divisive in Los Altos and cost the district a lot of money and rancor with lawsuits; just read the newspaper and wonder if this is the way to operate public schools...
Posted by new appreciation, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm
I agree with you, I wish we had FLES in elementary school. I tried to bring in after school language at our school and was given the royal runaround just for that. I tried and eventually succeeded with an after school math program, but that was surprisingly difficult, too, just terms of the institutional resistance.
Having more experience now with trying to get things done in this district, I am much, much more inclined to think well of Grace Mah. If the district had concerns about it hurting FLES, if it wanted to say no, it should have been up front about it from the start. It takes a lot of work to organize a group like that. They were led down a primrose trail for 5 years. I just think if the district had concerns about FLES, it could have leveraged the group's energy in service of both goals, instead of going for the wear-out-your-opponent tack.
I do still remember Grace Mah promising publicly to work on FLES, and I hope people will ask her to make good on that promise -- in an earnest way and without bitterness. She probably would.
BTW, she voted against the Bullis Charter renewal according to the story.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our studetns, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm
I am glad to see that the majority of posters get what went on with the MI fiasco. Chris Kenrick quotes Mah who changes history and facts. The proponents got about 400 signatures over a long period of time. The opposition to a MI program when 98% of the students get no language until 7th grade, got 1000 signatures in a matter of about 2 months. Mah did not decide to pursue a charter-school petition. She black mailed and threatened the Board by giving them a letter that basically said if they do not vote in MI, she will petition a charter school in P.A. She went to the board meetings for 6 years asking for this. The Board and staff had to put precious time into researching MI - for Grace and her 2 kids. She sent an email to the Palo Alto and Menlo Park Mothers Club saying apply for the MI program even if you do not plan on having your kids in it. She calls it a success? After the first year 2 of the 4 teachers left. Several students left. The principal left( I think that it was related.)Now in 4th and 5th grade there are about 6-7 fewer kids in the MI classes when other classes are getting more students. There are fewer applications for MI every year. Mah said after getting MI in, undemocratically in an unheard of action, that she would fight to get other languages in(FLES.) But she has not. She said there is no more fight. MI is doing fine. Well there should be a fight. There should be a fight still to have the 98% given a language earlier than 7th grade. There should be a fight to have MI include ELL, and Special Ed students in it. And there should have been a fight when Mah sent in a request for funding only for MI- when she could have requested funding for Spanish and MI. The funding was a huge amount( about $700,000.) that MI alone got for 3 years, and PAUSD needed to match it. Many P.A. parents are still fuming about this inequity. Many Los Altos parents are fuming about the Bullis school situation- where it also is more like a private school but using public school funding.It is true they do not let in students with disabilities. And generally, Mah has supported their requests. The fact that Dave Cortright an unknown was able to capture about 33% of the vote- shows how dissatisfied many Palo Alto and Los Altos families are with Grace Mah.
Shame on Mah for being so self serving, and shame on this District for not caring enough about that county board seat to learn what she is really about. I can only hope that more people will see her for who she is and vote her out the next time, before she hurts more of our community!
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 7:41 am
In addition to the posting just above, Mah was able to convince the District to accept over $65,000 from "donors" whose identities were kept secret from the public, to pay for the feasibility study that the District claimed it could not afford. The idea that secret money from secret donors was the way that democracy is supposed to work is reprehensible. Sadly, the Weekly didn't seem to see that as a problem, and never brought it up in any of the articles about how the MI situation was developing.
To make matters worse, Camille Townsend's husband was involved with an Stanford University-based "Institute" that had a financial arrangement with the Chinese government to increase the presence of Chinese commercial interests in the US. The combination of pressure from the Chinese government, albeit indirectly through Townsend's husband, and Mah's secret donor money, did not seem to upset any of the other Board members. Given the amount of Chinese espionage in the California, one would have thought that all of this secrecy, and indirect influence peddling, would have been a red flag that something wasn't right.
At some point, one has to wonder if someone calling Mah a "leader" would also call Al Capone a "leaders" too?
Posted by Languages are important, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:03 am
I agree that foreign languages should be taught K-12, as they are in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein. Almost everyone in those countries speaks 2-4 languages fluently. I was amazed when, in Belgium, a group of school children on a field trip to Bruges went through a bevy of languages trying to figure out where I was from.
English will not always be the dominant language of the world, as French once was. In fact people who can speak French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, and most any Eastern European language are much needed, both now and in the future. Yet only French and Spanish, of those listed, are taught in PAUSD schools. Sending your child to a foreign language school can cost up to $7000/yr!
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:39 am
The average class size in the District for 4 grade is 22.6 and 23.1 in 5 grade. Yet Escondido (Spanish Immersion) has 2 classes of under 20 (I assume they are the SI classes) Ohlone only published the 2nd grade stats in their SARC. Makes me wonder what they are hiding. Are there any Ohlone parents that know the actual class size of the4/5 MI classrooms? Are they over 20 or under?
Almost every other elementary school in Palo Alto has more than 23 kids in their 5th grade classrooms.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:24 am
Thank you Bob for more clarification of the facts. And you are right about that Feasibility Study. It was very biased- made the idea of MI, look great. They just needed a location. And then Susan Charles the principal at Olhone said they could do it there. And then the next year she left. Humm. And thank you Parent, charters for U, paly parent, Mom & LASD Teacher, For public school, another Paly parent, and former Paly parent for your posts!
The intent of Charter schools according to the Education Codes was for underprivileged students to be able to catch up with other students in their communities. But the laws are a bit vague. It was never expected that some parents and entrepreneurs would look for loopholes to create deluxe, boutique schools for the privileged whose parents want them to get ahead but on the public districts money. But this is exactly what has happened- at Ohlone in MI and at Bullis. Kendrick quoted Mah saying that the 4th and 5th grades in Ohlone MI are going to China with private funding. How sweet! So they use public funds for the education part, and then for field trips go outside the country. At some of the middle schools field trips for like science camp had to be cancelled because they did not have the funds. I wonder how the parents of the other 4th and 5th graders at Ohlone will feel? Many charter schools are not only not doing better, but are doing worse than public schools. And there have been many that have closed, usually for reasons related to funds being misused. According to Mah there are now more charter schools then the county staff can handle. But still she votes them in. Eventually the administrating of all of the charters will erode the public schools- and the charters are not stable entities to rely on. The public schools need work, but voting in more and more charters is not the answer. Pls realize that this county board has some teeth and next time vote in people who really care about our whole county and our children. We need to take some responsibility for having voted in Mah.
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:32 am
Mr. Recycle - I'm not jealous of small Ohlone classes - I actually can't find the class sizes in their SARC although they are supposed to post that by law. In previous years, the Ohlone MI and Escondido SI program class sizes were listed separately from the rest of the school, their class sizes were under 20 kids while the rest of the school was larger. This year it is not broken out and Ohlone doesn't have any grade but 2nd posted.
I AM jealous that a tiny group of students go into middle school with previous language classes paid for by the District and the majority of elementary students do not.
BTW -the kids I know from Ohlone have done extremely well in high school and college, getting into really great schools, graduate schools and jobs that they are enjoying.
Posted by Bikes2work, a member of the Santa Rita (Los Altos) community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:33 am
Part of the reason that Bullis Charter School is so popular in Los Altos is BECAUSE the district has no choice programs. They have a plain vanilla program across all of their schools with no magnet options like PAUSD or MVWSD. Grace Mah told LASD that they need to address this shortcoming if they are to truly serve their constituents.
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:38 am
As another bit of info, I am actually a big fan of Charters schools for underserved kids. The flexibility that well run charter provides is great, allowing kids to use technology to work at their own pace which in turn allows a smaller staff to actually spend more time with the students. The lack of unions and tenure ensure that the school (if well run) puts $$ where it can most benefit the students. I would like more of that flexibility in PAUSD.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 12:51 pm
> I am actually a big fan of Charters schools for underserved kids.
> The flexibility that well run charter provides is great,
Unfortunately, there is little publicly-accessible data that bears out this point-of-view. It's all well-and-good to surf through a couple of Charter school web-sites, see a few pictures, and come away believing that great strides in education are being made at these schools.
But, as noted in the earlier posting, if one looks at the APIs/STAR Tests for these schools, there are (in the aggregate) doing no better than the District schools, and in many cases, they are doing more poorly.
Although this data is freely available, one has to be able to do something with it (such as create Relational Databases) to manipulate these large datasets. Within a given County, this should be the domain of the County Office of Education. So, can we go to the County DoE's web-site, and find that data? Probably not. Is that something that a reasonable person would expect of the CDoE? Sure. But with Grace Mah sitting on the Board for upwards of five years now--we don't seem to see much in the way of metrics for the Charter schools. Why not? Well, perhaps that's because Ms. Mah is more of an activist than an engineer (which she claims as her prior occupation).
Of course, she was elected by the voters, who didn't seem to ask her very many questions when she ran for her second term.
Just believing the self-serving hype of any educators--be they from the District schools, or the Charter schools, is not a good thing. Always demand some proof--such as the last five year's API scores. That's the first, best, place to start. It also pays to look at their publicly-available documentation, including their budgets, and the employee salary/benefit data.
Evaluating schools is incredibly difficult. Just because you feel good about your kid's teacher--doesn't make her a good teacher, nor the school a good school.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm
Bikes2work, parents from LASD are angry at Mah for thinking that she can tell them what they need. She has no idea! They do not see it as a shortcoming to have no choice schools. Their schools have always done very well. And Bullis was there long before Mah was very unfortunately appointed to that Board. This issue with Bullis is draining and dividing their community in many ways,just as MI did Palo Alto. BTW- at a LASD public school meeting last year that Mah attended, a couple of parents asked Mah a question related to the county board. She remained silent. She made no effort to respond. Even during the break she did not approach these parents to try to help them with the issue. She went and chatted with one of her friends. She has no concern for pubic schools or those families. As this article describes she is pro-charter all the way! Even at the expense of all of our families.
Posted by another Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm
I think Ms. Mah is not interested in representing many of us - I do not feel she represents my interests. I think she got on the County Board of Education because the other candidate was terribly weak. We need more people who are passionate and experienced in education for all to run for this board.
I haven't been in the County Board offices for many years, but I recall a very nice office filled with staffers. Palo Alto is far away, but if this office has direction OVER PAUSD, then it would be better for more current PAUSD parents to be informed and engaged with that office...
I will re-state that as Palo Alto is a K-12 school district, I believe the Board must act in the interests of ALL the students. When they focus on foreign language, a worthy topic that certainly needs review here, they must do that in a comprehensive way, not for the benefit of a few, some of whom who are aiming for racial exclusivity. I feel it was incorrect to bow to Ms. Mah and agree under duress to install this narrow M-I program here.
Los Altos and Bullis: we are talking about an elementary school district and their situation is not directly comparable to PAUSD, however all their schools are already high-performing.
I know people in the LASD area and they have made it clear Bullis Charter has been a difficult and divisive issue. How it is to be resolved I don't know, but there are expensive lawsuits and demands happening, limited, expensive land - like we have here in Palo Alto, and excess attention devoted to Bullis. I don't like to recall how much time and effort had to be devoted to MI here in PAUSD, and am concerned if there is excess attention paid to a boutique program for the few.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm
Dear Gracie considers MI a success at Ohlone? Under what rubric? Thanks to Gracie, Ohlone's own waitlist was kicked to the curb. The school's undergone a massive expansion to more than 600 kids and has suffered accordingly. There's very limited crossover between Ohlone-main and MI. And dear Gracie is never there. It's kind of amazing really.
And the MI program has canned a teacher every single year. The unpleasant truth is that the oldest group of boys are notorious for being rude and out-of-control. The other unpleasant truth is that the Mandarin being learned is of a relatively low level. Anyone serious about their kid's literacy in Mandarin is supplementing. So, yes, the kids can converse in Mandarin, but writing and reading are a whole other story.
So, do Ohlone-main parents envy the privileges MI kids get (like the trip to China)? I don't know any--mostly because the program's such a mess. Ohlone main has some amazing teachers (not all the staff, but some), MI has none. And, yes, there's been attrition in some cases, kids held back in others. While a class that's intentionally small may be a privilege, a class that's small because parents have pulled their kids from it is not. Frankly, Ohlone-main kids just seem a lot happier and *calmer*. And let's face it, if you're a parent who's chosen to go the Ohlone way, that whole social-emotional learning thing matters to you.
As for charter schools, I've been interested in the recent research that shows charters don't get better results when all things are equal, they get slightly worse. It comes off as more and more about a money grab by the private sector instead of a genuine attempt to create better schools. Early supporters like Diane Ravitch have changed their tune, [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Yet another case of a faddish instant-fix that doesn't bear up under scrutiny. Good schools take work, money, patience and commitment. It's not about cutting costs and quick fixes.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm
Another paly parent- I agree with almost all that you posted. But initially Mah ran against two very experienced and seasoned candidates: Rose Felicetti and Barb Spreng. But this board was pro charter as was Mah and so she got in, with no experience. Since then she ran against Ellen Santiago and Dave Cortright- both very bright and passionate, and with integrity- but new to politics. Neither turned in a statement for the voters guide- a big mistake. And many read nothing and just vote in the incumbent. As for the meetings. They are not televised. I believe they may be recorded and you could order the recordings. I believe there may be a fee.( This is 2013- audio recordings in Silicon Valley!!!) The notes on each are very brief. If she cared she would have been suggesting these past 5 years to have them televised. She never lets P.A. know what is being covered at those meetings. A good rep? No!!
This Board, though I have heard is quite dysfunctional, it has some power over charters. Most people have never heard about it. At one point the governor was thinking of doing away with these county boards since they do so little. But ours does oversee $285 million. Where that money goes we are not told. And yes- it should be languages for all students not just a small percentage. It was simply less expensive to put in a small MI than a charter, or languages for all. And here we are in Palo Alto considered a very good school district- the MI program has been in for what 5 years, and still no discussion of languages for all.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm
Oh, one quick note--Grace was appointed to fill a vacancy--so she's never had to run for the county school board except as an incumbent with the incumbent advantage. In other words, people aren't really voting on her record as I suspect most voters know little about it.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm
OhlonePar- Sorry- you are right. I did not mean to write she "ran" for that seat. She never ran- she was appointed not for any experience- as she had none. That board chose her only for her pro charter position.
And you are right- after that she got in as an incumbent, not for her record, not for herself. But for 33% to vote against her in such an obscure race says there were people who wanted her out. And I was one of them.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm
> That board chose her only for her pro charter position.
While that may be true, the Board's reasoning for her selection was not made public. Barbara Spreng was not really a viable candidate--being pushed into the mix by the PAUSD "insiders". Spreng had no more experience in School System Administration that Mah did. Falecetti, from the point-of-view of experience, would have seemed to have been a better choice. She certainly conducted herself more professionally during the public interview process.
The issue of Charters might have been briefly mentioned during the public interviews, but (as memory serves) the topic was not central to the questions put to the candidates.
For people following the process, Mah was not considered to be the most qualified candidate.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 6:08 pm
And thank you for the description of what is really going on in the Ohlone MI classrooms. For all of the declared transparency, none of this has come out. It sounds really important. And bad. During the MI debacle it was reported that other districts that had immersion programs explained that they found that socially and emotionally it was not a healthy environment for the same students to be together in small classes for the whole elementary level. The teachers and principals commented and complained that it was not good for the kids to be almost cloistered together. They did not get to know the other kids in the school. The parents did not complain. I believe the same thing is happening now at Ohlone in the MI program,and that could be why the older boys are acting out. they are needing something else, and it is not being addressed. As for charters- it is hard to believe that some parents are willing to risk their kids education on something that is quite new and not proven to be good! I have heard that some Asian families in P.A. do not want to have their kids in the MI program for the reasons that you described. And in general fewer families are applying to it.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm
It is also worth remembering that MI is a pilot and was supposed to be reviewed after a certain number of years. I can't remember how many, and I certainly can't remember any review of the program.
Since the first group of cohorts are now 5th grade, it should be reviewed. It is a pilot, but then of course, I suppose that without very many people speaking up, this fact will be forgotten and no review made.
We need to have the value of this pilot program reviewed and we need to keep the BoE accountable to what they proposed on this pilot.
Posted by Eileen Altman, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Mar 9, 2013 at 7:42 pm
We should all take a very skeptical stance on the privatization of our public schools. Privatization includes charters and charter management organizations like Rocketship, the private firms that run the chains of charter schools. In the
United States public schools have long been understood as primary institutions for distributing opportunity. For this reason the public must be responsible for monitoring and improving public schools and expanding access to quality public education through elected and accountable representatives, i.e. school boards. Charter schools are only peripherally accountable to elected representatives through their once every five year charter renewals. They can wreak havoc on a community through the taking of public buildings, whether it serves the needs of the local community or not, without any accountability through local elected officials. Privatization too often undermines public purpose and diminishes the capacity of government to protect the public through well-regulated institutions.
Posted by Stu, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 8:20 pm
Ma is a disaster, just as fabled Charter Schools are. They recruit the most motivated, and usually talented, students and parents from the local schools, leave special needs and every other disadvantaged kid behind, and saddle the local schools with the disproportionate burden and cost of providing an education for all of their discard students. Meanwhile, the charter school, with the most motivated students and parents, is in essence, a publicly funded exclusive private school within a public school district. Granted, some school districts are truly awful and need major reforms, but carving a piece of the pie that benefits so few, while leaving the others behind with no improvements in sight, as Charters to, is a disgrace.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 3:51 am
I think it's also telling that Grace was begging for families to join her in a push for Mandarin classes in the middle schools--and wasn't getting anywhere. That also tells you something about how the MI program is viewed.
The MI/Ohlone mash-up was always more about political expedience rather than what made sense as educational policy. MI mixed with project-based learning was an unknown--and as a result there is no pool of teachers with the combination of experience. Then, of course, Susan Charles retired a year in and a teacher was promoted to principal. So another layer of inexperience on the management side.
I also think it's telling that Gracie measures MI's success by its existence--i.e. her kid's still in it--but nothing else. While I think there may have once been some notion that MI would get a school or half a school, I think that's become less likely thanks to the mediocrity of the program.
Funny thing is the fair thing--language for all kids of some sort probably would have been the better thing for many of the kids in MI. There was a lot of naivete about what MI required from families and kids. For some kids, it created academic issues that would have been minimal in a mainstream classroom. I've heard second-hand that there's begun to be an issue of some MI kids bullying younger Ohlone main, but I don't know how true that is. The bad behavior of the older kids I've witnessed first hand on more than one occasion. It's striking because Ohlone kids tend to be "nice"--all that circle time/teamwork stuff.
Look, we all know if the MI program were working, we'd be hearing all about it. It's telling that we're not. My guess is that Gracie plans to hold on to her position so that she can always do a charter threat if MI is dropped while her kids are in the district.
One more reason to vote against her. She's never shown much awareness of the purpose of public education.
Posted by wannabees, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 8:31 am
" It's striking because Ohlone kids tend to be "nice"--all that circle time/teamwork stuff."
That's surprising. From what I've seen from Ohlone kids the word I'd use to describe them is "calculating". I'm sure they will be great at middle-school social manipulation game. I've never seen the same from kids at the other schools.
Posted by K, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 11:17 am
I think the California Legislature needs to revisit how and when Charter Schools can be used. I think they great for areas that have few resources, such as in rural areas, or low preforming urban schools. It does NOT belong in school districts that are well-run and provide a strong, broad curriculum.
Palo Alto Unifed School District is a district with a strong, broad, comprehensive curriculum. Grace Mah wanted her way. I can remember how stunned we were when, at a group meeting, told what it meant to the school district when people pressure for a charter school. It means we have to share the money pot with them and the district has to provide a place for them. On top of that the district has no say in how they operate.
I would be fine if they had to find another location, on their own, financed with the help of the State. Don't take money from people who already have a good district providing services!
The worst thing about Chinese and Spanish immersion is the fact that it DOESN'T fit in the true idea of Choice Schools in Palo Alto. Ohlone and Hoover cover the same curriculum. The language immersion programs are giving an advantage to children that the rest of school population does not receive -- foreign language instruction. This is soooo wrong! It is unjust and unfair.
It would be better if we could implement homeschooling instead.
I can't wait for the day that Ms. Mah is out of the school board business forever!
Posted by palo alto parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 10, 2013 at 11:22 am
My kids have gone through Jordan and Paly with kids from Ohlone, Hays, Addison and Duveneck kids. At Jordan, they found former Ohlone students to be kind, friendly, welcoming students. The "calculating" and exclusionary kids were from girls from Hays and Addison, boys from Duveneck and Escondido Spanish Immersion. A lot of the Escondido "regular" kids resented the SI kids because they excluded them, including/especially speaking Spanish in front of them with the sole purpose of excluding them from the conversation.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm
> I think the California Legislature needs to revisit how
> and when Charter Schools can be used.
And what makes you think that these people—mostly the paid servants of public employee unions—know anything about education?
It’s been a while since Charters were authorized by the Legislature, so the details as to why they decided to allow them to operate might be difficult to find, easily. However, having spoken to at least one person who is somewhat knowledgeable of the situation, the underlying idea at the time was that the Charters were supposed to experiment in a “deregulated environment”, and their best ideas introduced back into the State/District schools. Unfortunately, that management of that process never materialized—thanks wholly to the same Legislature that created the Charters.
The District Office of Education in each County could easily have collected the data, and the State DoE could have collated it, and made recommendations to the Legislature about the success/failures of the Charters—but there doesn’t seem to have been any evidence of that’s happening. Perhaps there are some people collecting data that are not transparent to the public—but given the sorry state of the District schools in most of the Counties—that sort of information should have been made public by now, if it existed.
The idea that the Legislature should be in control of “education”, needs to be weighed against the fact that the Legislature seems to be easily controlled by the Labor Unions. Charters supposedly were supposed to offer a possible change to the status quo. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have lived up to their hype—based on standardized testing data. At a minimum, whatever techniques that they have developed that are different than those from the District schools don’t seem to have been codified, and fed back into the District school system.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm
"Calculating"? Not sure what you mean by that. There is an emphasis at Ohlone-main on teamwork and working with others. I'm sure some kids use this experience to be manipulative, but I'd say this is more than balanced out by the greater empathy and better social negotiating skills that I've seen in Ohlone kids as a whole. While you clearly mean it as a back-handed compliment, I can think of worse things than a child being able to handle middle school.
My main point is that the MI classes are not well run when compared to the Ohlone-main classes. Some of the MI teachers have made an attempt to get with the Ohlone program, others seem frustrated and baffled by it. As I've said before the Ohlone/MI mash-up was politically expedient, but it didn't make a lot of sense. Hoover really would have been an easier fit. In fact, a non-immersion, but Mandarin or Spanish class in the morning might have been a good program at Hoover.
It doesn't have the glitz of immersion, but plain old-fashioned daily foreign languages classes work--it's certainly how most of the world's been learning English.
Anyway, back to the main topic--there really is a charter industry at this point that pushes back against better oversight and regulation of charters. This became quite apparent during Mah's charter threat. I've always thought our school board should have had a backbone, but charters aren't good news for a basic-aid district like ours. Mah and her cronies were picturing an MI school of 400 kids--most of which would have had to come from other districts--the demand for Mandarin (even with Gracie's personal recruiting crusade) just isn't there. I think the school board saw it being all the headache of Bullis and then some.
While I'm not opposed to charters in theory--and there are some that are clearly effective, I do have an issue with what has become essentially an attempt of private for-profit companies to take public education funds and use them with insufficient oversight. Grace Mah should not have been able to cram MI down our throats by threatening the district with a charter. The district as a whole didn't benefit from this, Ohlone sure didn't and even the kids in MI haven't thanks to it being such a half-assed program.
A district that's meeting its performance goals should be able to say "no." Something like MI, which isn't meeting any need in the district (We don't have a bunch of Mandarin-speaking kids who need to learn English) shouldn't get public funds--that sort of thing is a natural for a private school--something for which people pay for the perq instead of expecting the rest of us to shoulder the cost.
Posted by wannabees, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm
"There is an emphasis at Ohlone-main on teamwork and working with others"
When I discussed it with other parents, it was put down to the "lord of the flies" playground environment. As I said, I'm sure it will do them well in middle school but "nice" isn't the outcome. If you are another child that is.
Back to MI. The recommendation at the time was that two classes per year were required. The board managed to finesse that by installing it at Ohlone and using the combined model to pretend they had met the requirement. When there are so few in the program and not mixing with the rest of the campus for whatever reason, there will be problems.
Posted by politics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 3:30 pm
palo alto parent, Paly community
I guess your kids were either boys from Hayes or Addison or girls from Duveneck or Escondido.
Along with someone calling Ohlone kids calculating, do we really need to characterize the population of kids from any school based on the perceptions of a few, about the actions of a few?
Speaking of which, it is the perceptions ore experiences of a few and the actions of a few that can get programs like MI and Charter schools successfully started. There is nothing inherently wrong with developing specialty programs for families with specific needs, but generalizing a specialty program for larger populations is a different story. Some programs have a chance, others may not, just like some charter schools are approved and some are not. Everything in between is politics.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 3:39 pm
> I do have an issue with what has become essentially
> an attempt of private for-profit companies to take
> public education funds and use them with
> insufficient oversight.
This sentiment has popped up in this discussion a couple of times, yet there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of evidence for the claim that there is no “oversight”. Charter schools have their own board, and there is nominal oversight by the District schools vis-à-vis their being the immediate source of funds for the Charters.
The Charters have to take standardized tests—which reveals their performance compared to their sponsoring District’s performance, as well as the rest of the state. Anyone doing a little Googling will see that Charter schools are subject to financial oversight, and often financial misconduct is identified by audits—just like we saw recently in the Woodside School District.
According to parents who are enthusiastically pro-Charter, it’s their claim that the Charter schools listen to them, unlike the District schools, and so the parents become a de facto first-line of “oversight”. Certainly from reading the thousands of posting on the Weekly web-site that involve the PAUSD, there are a lot of unhappy parents. And it’s pretty clear that the current PAUSD board has no idea what “oversight” is.
Maybe people believing Charters are “eroding” the District schools have a valid point-of-view, but they rarely seem to show up with any real data to prove their beliefs.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm
There still seems to be a difference of opinion between a family's needs or wants and a family's desire.
As far as, for example, religion goes, if a family desires its child educated along a religous path whether it be Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Pagan, then there is no argument that they should go outside the public education system to get it.
If a family desires its child to be educated along a predominately sports oriented or arts oriented line, then we tend to think that they should also look for that outside the public school system, particularly at the lower grades although some might argue that in high school there is too much of an emphasis on sports and athletic preference.
We might even discuss that if a family desires its child to have a better math or science start for college, then supplementing public education with tutors and prep classes they can go outside PAUSD also.
However, when it comes to languages, why on earth do some families consider that their "desires" are special needs which they should get when others get nothing.
I personally think there are many advantages to learning a language other than the mother tongue at an early age. It helps English language development, grammar, accent, and even world culture understanding. I would like to see FLES in our schools and would even support a choice of different languages, but only if they were available to all.
Anyone who thinks that they have a particular need or want to learn Mandarin, Spanish, Hebrew or Swahili, or any other language at the elementary level should be looking outside PAUSD just like religious, sports or dance educations. Why is this so difficult?
Needs or wants of language is not something we should be muddling up with desire.
Posted by politics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm
The eroding of public schools with charters is well illustrated with Mandarin Immersion.
Pretend Mah had gone through with her threat to PAUSD, and opened a Mandarin Immersion charter school.
MI has overwhelmed the community conversation on the topic of languages with either pro- or con- arguments.
In a system of scarce resources, it is valid to say that charters can erode district schools, compared to working together to build programs with depth and breadth for already existing schools.
It would be interesting to have data that demonstrates why charter schools are being "aimed almost entirely at boosting options for low-income children in San Jose." Is it because charter schools are more effective in general, or because low-income children have unique needs that San Jose schools have decided not to address, or can't.
Some of these charter schools are also experiments, and without more data and oversight for charter schools, it is of concern that resources are possibly being diverted from district schools.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 7:11 pm
"Lord of the Flies" playground environment? Odd--maybe this was the result of the school's overcrowding and the two-year construction project that severely limited the playing area? Ohlone did not benefit from going from under 400 kids to more than 600 over a short period of time--what you've seen may be connected to that. (May also be connected to that bullying issue I'd heard about third-hand.)
Bob, if you were around for Mah's charter threat back when MI was being endlessly debated, you'd know there's plenty of evidence for what I'm saying--*most* of the school board openly said that MI was not a good fit given the district's issues with overcrowding. Then they flipped their vote after the charter threat.
Because we're basic aid here, we do nearly all our own funding--an influx of 400 kids--even with their own district's paying forward their share from general tax revenues--makes for a smaller slice of the pie. It also means using a school facility for a charter, in this case, that would not have been serving in-district students and taking away a school site that *would* be used by district kids.
We're a small district--oversight, per se, isn't the problem as much as a tendency to elect A) a weak board and B) have a school bureaucracy that tends to hunker down. Callan was awful and Skelly has not impressed. The same crappy board that brought you MI also hired Skelly and spent 20-plus meetings talking about MI while NOT addressing the need to open another elementary. And we're paying for that and will be paying for that for some time to come.
The only one on that board for whom I have any respect is Gail Price. Camille Townsend and Mandy Lowell are sort of ninnies while Dana Tom is capable of seeing reason, but basically lacks any sort of backbone.
We need to do a better job of recruiting and electing better candidates.
Posted by politics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm
If the problem is a weak board and bureaucracy, depending on the level of dissatisfaction with these two, a charter school may have a case here.
After MI, for all the promotion of global education and languages, the board and district forgot that the other 98% of kids have no option of learning a world language until middle or high school. Now, more serious than languages is the social-emotional stuff, between bullying and suicides. Part of that may be enrollment. Big High Schools.
Somewhere along the line, if enough students are hurting, it might make sense to erode the current system and force change. Especially if, as you say, voters end up failing at doing "a better job of recruiting and electing better candidates." Not to mention, we recently had a very decent candidate, Ken Dauber, against whom there was a hate campaign against.
Posted by classified, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Mar 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm
@Another Ohlone Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood - of course that hurts. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In no way this comment is directed personally to you, or anyone else.
Given all going on - even your kids may be impacted. Even if you, personally, do not model "calculating" at home or anywhere else.
There is no way to create a "compassion bubble" for your kids.
Posted by New appreciation, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 9:17 am
I respect you and your intelligent commentary, so I want to ask you to consider reconsidering as I have. I have come to realize just how difficult it can be to do anything new or different or collaborative (parents with administrators) in our district, and how even downright deceptive the leadership can be. Mah and the MI group wanted to accomplish something, and the district people did what they do: Instead of saying No and being honest with their reasons, or figuring out a plan for saying Yes strategically, they ran the group on wild goose chases for five years hoping to wear them down and lose them by attrition.
By the time Mah spoke about a charter, it was because they had invested so much for so long. You may not appreciate what Mah is trying to do, but you too have a specific vision for your child's education which is clear from your moniker, and that not everyone else would understand either. Mah didn't get to that point in a vacuum.
I'm not at Ohlone, so I can't speak to how well it is or isn't working. But it's ridiculous to say Mah did any of this so her kids could get that program. They could afford to send them to get that privately. The program was a vision that group had, that they worked hard for, and I feel like district politics had everything to do with why things got to that point and so acrimonious. I have to admire her for being the lightning rod or the group, too.
If people hadn't been so angry at Mah, it might have been easier to get her help to accomplish FLES from the getgo. But I challenge you to take that one on and see firsthand just how difficult that group at 25 Churchill can be to "work with". You may develop a new appreciation as I have.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 10:23 am
> MI is an example of a charter eroding the District schools.
This simply is not true. While your point about its taking a lot of “energy” away from the community is true—there is no evidence that the PAUSD aggregate test scores have been affected by this program. There is no data available about the scores of individual students, so it’s possible that some students might have diverted time to deal with Mandarin that could affect some other subjects—but at the moment, we don’t know.
> Some of these charter schools are also experiments,
> and without more data and oversight for charter schools,
> it is of concern that resources are possibly being
> diverted from district schools.
Again, this premise is wrong. Charter schools are operated within the framework of a given district—so no resources are diverted from the Districts. Let’s think this through for a second—
A District has 1000 students, and spends $10,000/student (CA Average).
A Charter school is started, which attracts 200 students. The Charter asks for $8500/student.
The District now has 800 students to educate; the Charter 200. The total dollar amount (this is an ADA District) remains the same.
The District schools will not need to hire as many teachers/staff—so their cost/student remains the same, or possibly increases, depending on the cost/student that the Charter school negotiates.
There is no erosion—from a pure financial point-of-view. Now, schools have become employment engines for decades. In some schools, there are more non-teaching staff than teaching staff. So, if the underlying concern is that non-teaching staff will be terminated because there is no longer need for them—that might be true. But in that case—you would have to endorse the premise that schools are job engines and not primarily for education.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 10:30 am
>Bob, if you were around for Mah's charter threat back
>when MI was being endlessly debated, you'd know
>there's plenty of evidence for what I'm saying--*most*
>of the school board openly said that MI was not a good
> fit given the district's issues with overcrowding. Then they
>flipped their vote after the charter threat.
Agreed. It was clear that Mah and her backers were intent on forcing this down the PAUSD’s throat—not because their was a need for this sort of program because they apparently had access to money that could be used to pay for a court challenge. Sadly, the PAUSD Board turned tail, and would not defend the interests of the community at large.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 11:16 am
The Board was not deceptive with Mah when she started about 9 years ago coming often to ask them for a MI program. They can only respond for their own board. The board members are voted in and stay for 4 years. They are not like the judges on the Supreme Court, who are there for their lives. The Board can not therefore unequivocally state to her- yes or no, forever. Only yes or no for now. And maybe Mah had a vision, maybe they did it just for their kids. But when you go before the board for 5-6 years asking for the same thing and you are rejected because it not seen as benefiting the majority of students, you need to move in another direction. The Board are individuals who are elected to represent us. They do the best they can. Many staff hours were used up researching the plausibility of MI. Many hours were spent on the Feasibility Study which as a poster pointed out was secretly funded and the donors were never disclosed. All these hours related to a program that was not even part of PAUSD. All of those staff hours could have been spent on improving languages for all, or math, or writing- all subjects that pertain to our schools. If Mah could well afford private school, many many P.A. parents would have been relieved to have her stop taking up so much of the staffers precious time with MI.
It is an important point that you are not at Ohlone. OhlonePar is there, and has been there for years so can speak to what is really going on there. And it does not sound good. But, and here I do fault the current Board- it is not as transparent as it should be. We should hear what is going on there.
A poster asked about MI being a pilot. It was for 3 years, and about 2 years ago the Board voted that it then be considered on going. We were told that on-going does not mean forever. If at any point, for reasons that other new programs have been closed, such as fewer applicants it could still be closed. And it is getting fewer applicants, each year.
Posted by politics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 1:17 pm
The fights for specialty programs or a charter school have an opportunity cost associated with "energy" which your calculations don't reflect. You acknowledge the cost, without any numbers. THe value will anyway depend on the reason driving the split from mainstream.
The analogy to MI and charter is good because if you add up all the costs (including energy) and compare it to the value gained per student, how do you think an MI charter school for 200 students would compare to FLES for all of PAUSD?
"If people hadn't been so angry at Mah, it might have been easier to get her help to accomplish FLES from the get go."
From what you describe, it was Mah who got angry. As you say, she and her political group were not going to take no for an answer, not after 9 years of asking. A fight that included accusing the community of racism because she felt the resistance to MI was Mandarin, not the immersion.
Posted by politics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm
"I have come to realize just how difficult it can be to do anything new or different or collaborative (parents with administrators) in our district, and how even downright deceptive the leadership can be."
By the way, immersion was not different because Spanish Immersion had been around for a long time.
I wonder if it's really that complicated to evaluate something without political maneuvering? District staff does some great stuff when working towards a common goal, and interestingly the good stuff usually does not involve the board of education or such outrageous political wrangling.
Posted by TB, a resident of another community, on Mar 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm
How exciting to see all this passion around foreign language! It sounds like there are parents who are willing to continue to advocate for FLES? Go for it! It doesn't need to be mutually exclusive between FLES and Immersion.
PAUSD is fortunate to have so many educational choice programs for its families. Yes, there are waitlists and not everyone gets in... but there are choices.
Posted by MI still only serves 2% of our students, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm
Right after MI was forced into PAUSD there was a committee to research FLES. They brought their recommendations to the Board that it was a good idea. The Board squelched it because of the expense. So MI got a grant for $700,000. for 3 years which PAUSD had to match. And FLES was rejected again.
A poster asked about classroom size. I am not sure about SI, but MI has fewer students in their 4th and 5th classes.
It surprises me that some parents in other communities are willing to risk having their kids in charter schools. But mostly those are areas where the schools have proven to allow their kids to be underachieving at their local schools. Well- except for Los Altos - where the schools have been excellent. Bullis charter school is in fact not going by the letter of the Education Codes that intents for charters to be in underprivileged areas.
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm
Where is the data with regard to the current performance of the MI program? For example, how many of the original kinders are still with the program? How do the test scores of the program by subject compare by grade level to the rest of PAUSD. What are the class sizes by grade? How many teachers have been trained and exited the program? HOw much money has PAUSD spent? How much has been spent via government grant? How many students have entered at grade levels above kindergarten - how were they chosen? By random lottery or via apptitude testing? What are the yearly counts of lottery applicants? What is the state of the curriculum, the library books and other materials. What District staff resources (hours, by staff) have been spent on the program, at what cost to the district. Has the program remained cost neutral? etc etc etc.
Is there a report somewhere that specifies the current performance on these measures?
I see a lot of rehashing of the past, but where the current data?
Any program, including any charter, should be able to show data supporting its value to the students it serves, and to taxpayers. Do we have that information for MI?
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2013 at 9:39 am
>The fights for specialty programs or a charter school
> have an opportunity cost associated with "energy"
>which your calculations don't reflect.
The example provided earlier was just to provide a basis for discussion. The numbers were not drawn from any real school systems. The only point was to make the point that all of the dollars that a school system receives stays within the District, once a Charter is authorized. If a for-profit entity runs the Charter, then presumably “profit” might leave the District, but there is also the possibility that the for-profit entity might actually subsidize the Charter (at least at first), so that there is no “profit” in the Charter’s early years.
> energy ..
It’s true that the community gets “energized” about some school matters (such as Math and MI), but this energy can not be measured. If you can’t measure it, you don’t know much about it, and you can’t manage it.
> how do you think an MI charter school for 200 students
> would compare to FLES for all of PAUSD?
Foreign languages in elementary school does not seem to be something that has energized Palo Altans—as much as MI has. There really are only so many things children can be expected to deal with in elementary school. Personally, I would prefer that what ever passes as English be beefed up, so that students can show more proficiency in reading/writing English by the time they graduate. Moreover, Latin and Greek will likely prove to be of more value later in their lives, rather than French and Spanish—if they end up in the “professions”.
Posted by politics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm
"Foreign languages in elementary school does not seem to be something that has energized Palo Altans—as much as MI has."
In a PAUSD survey a few years ago, parents ranked foreign languages in elementary school a 4th priority, behind good teachers, teacher training and student health. What energized MI was a possibly a community objecting to a boutique foreign language program that today still only serves very few.
But, you didn't really answer the question, what would your rough numbers look like comparing a charter or specialty program with a mainstream program, using MI as the example. You broke it out to which languages would be popular. By the way, I've heard of Latin or Greek taught in Middle and High Schools, but not in Elementary School.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2013 at 2:37 pm
I'm well aware of who is and isn't on the current school board--I was discussing the board at the time of the MI debate.
I think charters have their place, but the original concept and intent has been distorted.
And thank you for mentioning Mah's accusations of racism--an insinuation she made to the NY Times. I actually called her on it in this Forum and she bristled pretty defensively.
It's interesting, at the time of the MI debates there were a lot of heated MI defenders who could get pretty bitchy--I don't see them. In fact, no one has countered my description of the situation at Ohlone except to say that the playground situation is horrible.
Sorry, not buying it. Yes, the board should have not shilly-shallied and simply said no--though Camille Townsend was a promoter of the program, so I expect that was part of it. Fact is, the Mah and the MI pushers were a clump of parents who had their kids in the International School preschool--they didn't want to spend a $100,000 on their kids' education so they pushed a boutique program for MI that benefited only their kids.
It's telling that Mah's last big public push here was for a Mandarin middle-school class--yep, timed for her kids--again.
It's also telling that Mah, after proclaiming that she would try to bring foreign language instruction to the rest of PA elementary-school kids (take a look, she said it in the Forum right after the MI vote) has done *nothing* on that front.
And when I say nothing, I mean it. Ohlone's PTA has had an afterschool foreign language program for years. Ohlone parents, as a group, are asked to volunteer on at least three projects. One of the places you see MI parents volunteer is, indeed, on the foreign-language council. But not Grace. Clearly, she's too busy rounding up private funds to send the MI kids to China.
In general, charters shouldn't cost a district money, but since we're basic aid AND because we're overcrowded in a place with high land prices, the calculations come out differently. Providing a school for 400 (Mah's proposed school size at the time) mostly out-of-district students would take a toll on the district.
I said at the time of the MI debacle that a charter might indeed be the way to go and that the MIers should consider a general revenue district for it. They did not (here, at least) like that idea at all. It was clear that having the program *in* Palo Alto was part of the deal--they wanted that prestige. If Grace and her cronies had really just wanted a public Mandarin program they would have met much less resistance if they'd tried for a charter in Mountain View or East Palo Alto.
There was some talk at the time that Mah and Co. saw MI in Palo Alto as sort of a beacon program--that having it here would encourage other districts to create them. I suspect this was the reasoning behind the still-mysterious generous backing of Mah and her supporters. Somebody or something (i.e. the Chinese government) saw the potential to make money.
Which makes the sheer crappiness of the MI/Ohlone program pretty ironic.
I can tell you that there are fewer than 20 fifth graders whereas, as you know, the district class size for fifth graders is supposed to be 23-24. Kids are tested in in the later grades and, of course, there's a shortage of Mandarin speakers in this district. Haven't seen the test scores broken out, but I know of individual cases where it's clear the kids have academic issues--some of this I blame on the general issues that arise from immersion classes, some I blame on the inexperienced staff--it really is an experiment.
I've never seen any reporting on how well the kids are actually doing in Mandarin--what I know is from talking to MI parents.
One of the dirty little secrets of both MI and SI in Palo Alto is that they have a major problem recruiting major speakers--not only do they barely meet their 1/3 minimum native speaker requirements (in terms of actual learning, it's better to have one-half)--the programs really stretch the definition of "native" speaker. I know one kid who qualified as a native speaker in one of the immersion programs. The language wasn't the child's first or even second--it was the child's *third.*
We have very few of the kids who truly benefit from immersion programs--i.e. kids for whom English really is a second language in which they're not fluent.
I think SI/MI mean that the district has never really considered FLES, even though FLES would be a far bigger benefit overall than either immersion program. It's a shame.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm
In general, charters shouldn't cost a district money,
but since we're basic aid AND because we're overcrowded
..the calculations come out differently.
Agreed .. up to a point.
> Providing a school for 400 (Mah's proposed school size at the time)
Vaguely rings a bell.
> mostly out-of-district students would
> take a toll on the district.
Not certain we agree on this point. If you are saying that hundreds of families would have moved into the District in order to enroll in the newly-minted PAUSD MI program, but there doesn't seem to be any claims out of the real estate "community" that MI is driving up the price of houses, and that there are hundreds of Chinese families waiting to move into PA.
All that was going on here--at least during Round.I--was that some kids who were going to the schools around town were reassigned to Ohlone. The District might have had to reassign some kids from Ohlone to other elementary schools, but if that did happen, then there was no uproar about these displacements.
As it turns out, the MI program does not seem to have materialized to be as good, or as interesting, as the hype that Mah and her followers pitched the Board. So, the numbers that we're seeing here seem to be in the 200-ish.
The District has historically built portables to handle overflow. Yes, these are not free, but neither are they all that expensive. Any program that needs to "startup" on a campus (bigger than Hoover, anyway) can easily add some portable. (So, anyone from Ohlone want to add some details about how, exactly, this new load was handled, on site?)
Some Charters have begun to demand that the Districts put bond measures on the ballot for money for the Charters. Don't know just how many have succeeded in getting on the ballot in their Districts, or how many bonds for Charter facilities have actually been passed. Nonetheless--it's pretty clear: give people an inch, and they will so be demanding a mile.
Several folks have suggested that the MI "management" needs to start providing program-level documentation about the program to the public. Again, this is something that the Language Department Heads, Directors responsible for this program, the Supt. and Board should be producing. Failure to do so pretty much should prove incompetence to be in charge of these programs.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm
> But, you didn't really answer the question, what would your rough
> numbers look like comparing a charter or specialty program with a
> mainstream program, using MI as the example.
Hard to answer directly, but Charters would at the very least have the expenditures of an Administration, and the cost of providing "governance". It also would be responsible for its facilties costs. Someone might be able to put together a spreadsheet which makes a reasonable estimate at the cost. It the Charter can use buildings that the District owns, this would bring down the costs considerable. Rent isn't the big item so much as rehabing buildings to meet safety and comfort standards.
> By the way, I've heard of Latin or Greek taught in
> Middle and High Schools, but not in Elementary School.
You're right. Lating/Greek not the best candidates for elementary school. If I were given a chance to design an "enhanced" language program for elementary schools, I think I would try to create something that was along the lines of "Introduction to Human Language". Students would not be expected to learn a given language so much (although there is no reason that by the sixth grade they should not be able to have a small working vocabulary and basic language facilty in almost any of the current langages). Latin/Greek probably would be best for high school--because the literature that is available in these langages is written by adults, for adults. Kids in high school should be able to deal with Caesar/Cicero/Ovid and Homer.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm
Kids don't have to live in a district to attend a charter school in that district. PA, itself, didn't and doesn't have a demand for a 400-student MI elementary. PA residents would have priority, but after that . . . in particular, there's a shortage of native Mandarin speakers.
While charters don't recreate big financial issues for general-revenue districts, we're basic-aid. Essentially, we self-fund our schools in exchange for receiving a minimal amount of the state pie. While there'd be some general revenue funding coming in with out-of-district students it wouldn't make ends meet here. When you add to that the shortage of school sites and the growing enrollment of city residents, it's easy to see that a charter would, indeed, be an issue for Palo Alto.
Or simply put, your general revenue district gets more money when it has more students--charters are appealing precisely because they attract out-of-district students. Palo Alto, on the other hand, raises a set amount from local taxes. More students means slicing the revenue pie smaller.
That said, I think a *small* MI charter would have worked better than the MI/Ohlone mash-up. It really was Palo Alto at its worst--single-minded, selfish, persistent parent; weak, feckless school board; and a school administration *far* more interested in covering its collective ass than actually doing what would be best for the children.
In some ways, it's the latter that bugs me the most. Over and over again, you see lots of wrangling, but a basic inability to actually figure out basic priorities AND HANDLE THEM.
The school board should never have spent 20-30-odd meetings on MI when the school population was exploding and they needed to strategize long-term about when and where to open schools.
Our schools are far too large and we're seeing the ramifications of that. It's not at all surprising that the recent infamous incident of bullying took place at a certain overcrowded northern PA middle school.
And it's clear that the board and the PAUSD school bureaucracy still don't have a clue. Instead of hiring a PR consultant, we need board members and a school super who know how to lead and how to actually have a constructive public discussion.
I think part of the reason criticism of the board and Skelley can be so harsh is that there really isn't much in the way of leadership there. The board's incredibly passive and Skelley kind of hides out--when you have that sort of leadership vaccuum, people will argue and push.
The result is you get programs pushed through that are poorly thought out but strongly desired by the Grace Mahs of the world, while serious issues that *do* affect the entire district, such as growth, get neglected because they're tough questions and require real decision making, until the situation is bad enough that some sort of half-assed action finally happens.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 10:07 am
> Kids don't have to live in a district to attend
> a charter school in that district. PA,
Hmm .. this discussion has gotten a bit technical .. perhaps even crossed into some uncharted waters.
Of the 1100+ school districts in California, all are ADA (Average Daily Attendance) except some 55-60 districts, which are Basic Aid (BA). In an ADA district, the funding goes with the student—so the statement above provides no problem for the hosting district. If out-of-district students are attracted, there is no loss to the parent/host district—just to the district losing the student. However, in a BA district, there is no funding on a per-head basis. So, when a Charter starts up in a BA district, the funding has to come from the District’s basic funding sources. The PAUSD has the authority to accept/deny transfer requests from out-of-district students, in large part because out-of-district students do not come with “funding”.
The PAUSD probably the most complicated financial model of any school district in California—because it educates students from three different municipalities (two different counties) and Stanford, as well as children of staff living all over the Bay Area. Stanford, which is largely property-tax exempt (as an institution), expects its students to be educated in the public school system—pushing its educational costs on the PAUSD taxpayers. Some staff actually pay property taxes (although at a generally lower amount based on long-time ownership of homes). Graduate students, many of whom are not California residents, or even US residents, are provided access to the PAUSD without any direct financial support by Stanford.
So—the expectation that one (or more) Charters should be able to open in this district, attracting perhaps thousands of students from outlying districts, all of which would be funded by the PAUSD property tax payers (at/about 70% of current PAUSD funding) not only makes little sense—but is actually quite frightening. If this scenario were to be the case, it’s hard to believe that there would not be a big push to change the EdCode so that the number of outside students allowed in a Charter in a BA district would either have to come with “funding”, or some other funding scheme that would remove the burden of educating students from outside the BA district.
There are probably no Charters in any BA districts at the current time, since BA districts are generally considered to be well-funded, compared with many California districts.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 10:24 am
> The school board should never have spent 20-30-odd
> meetings on MI when the school population was
> exploding and they needed to strategize long-term
> about when and where to open schools.
Most people in the District, if asked, would probably agree. Unfortunately, most people don’t have kids in school, and given the intense, almost institutional religion/madness that seems to swirl around the goings-on at the PAUSD, most people simply don’t want to be involved—giving people like Camille Townsend the ability to latch on and send the District in directions that are probably not all that healthy for all of Palo Alto, in the long run.
Sadly, this WCDB crowd seems to have a strategy of being the community “attack-dog”, rather than approaching things from a more moderate approach. Far too many people only see the PAUSD as good for keeping housing prices high, so that they can “cash out” when they decide to move on. Couple this “gold lust” view of their local schools, as well as a general lack of education about education systems in the US/CA—we’re left with a real problem when it comes to local school governance.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm
My understanding regarding to Stanford and the district is that several PA schools are on Stanford lands--including Paly and the elementaries (Escondido, Nixon) on the Stanford Ave. corridor. Basically, there's a trade-off. A chunk of Stanford faculty actually lives in Palo Alto, so they're paying property taxes. Of course, this all made for a better financial deal when Palo Alto was a more middle-class community instead of part of the Silicon Valley pot of gold.
I think Los Altos is basic aid and has Bullis Charter, but then Bullis , though successful, is pretty darn controversial. While a charter in PA wouldn't bring in thousands of out-of-district kids, even hundreds would be costly to the district. I suspect changing the law would be difficult--basic-aid districts are basically rich-people districts to the rest of the state. There's not a huge desire to accommodate.
But, yes, I think you see why the whole charter thing is an issue here in a way it's not, say, next door in Mountain View.
Your summation of why our local school board doesn't work is one with which I agree. Palo Alto's historically had a strong civic culture--building schools, parks, libraries, civic centers--but in the last 20 years there's been a real me-first/me-only attitude--people pay a lot to live here and they feel entitled as a result. I don't mean everybody by any means, but it's enough so that it influences the public discourse in this city.
There's a lot of anger and frustration at this point--so much so that the level of anger may or may not correspond to the seriousness of the issue. And I think it is a deterrent to good governance.
In many ways, I think there's been an essential breakdown of trust--and that's led to the rancor. I'm not sure what started it--Callan's secretive regime was a huge problem as was the board's vote-switching on MI and mysterious funding of studies by Mah and co. to push through MI. But there have been issues since then--Everyday Math was controversial, the Gunn suicides upset people, and now we have the district's issue with handling bullying.
I remember attending an MI meeting at Ohlone years ago with Callan present. Basically, Callan tried to shut off questions about MI and then she lectured us on our behavior at the end--and this was after she was already on the way out because of her shenanigans. Her arrogance was really kind of amazing.
I think, in some ways, everybody involved with educating our kids should just keep asking themselves, "Will this help kids? How? How many kids will it help? Will it have an adverse effect on kids? How? What can we do about that?"
With all the arguing and the pushing of pet issues, there's been a real loss of an ability to see the big picture.
Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm
> My understanding regarding to Stanford and the district is
> that several PA schools are on Stanford lands--including Paly
> and the elementaries (Escondido, Nixon) on the Stanford Ave. corridor.
Paly was bought by the PAUSD using eminent domain (as a lever) in the 1950s. Not certain what the legal status of Gunn is. Escondido and Nixon are on Stanford lands. However, Stanford never gives anything away for free. It’s very likely that if the PAUSD were to discontinue using those sites as schools, the buildings (paid for by PAUSD taxpayers) would revert to Stanford ownership.
> Basically, there's a trade-off.
Not when you “do the math”. At 13+K per student, it doesn’t take long for Stanford to cost the PAUSD a lot of money to educate their students.
> A chunk of Stanford faculty actually lives in Palo Alto,
> so they're paying property taxes.
Stanford faculty living in Palo Alto are PA residents first—so, yes, they are paying property taxes. However, there are about 1100 parcels on the Stanford lands that are “owned” by faculty. These folks are not really living in Palo Alto. They do get to vote in PAUSD elections, however.
> I think Los Altos is basic aid and has Bullis Charter,
> but then Bullis , though successful, is pretty darn
Yes, you are correct. This is probably the only Charter in a Basic Aid district. The Los Altos Elementary District scores higher than the elementary schools in the PAUSD—so what exactly Bullis is all about seems to be something that exceeds the idea of “underserved children”.
> ‘Her arrogance was really kind of amazing.
Amen to that.
By the way, not every BA is full of “rich folks”. Some of the Districts in Kern County are BA because of oil revenues that flow into the district coffers.
Posted by another Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 15, 2013 at 9:24 am
I read this week that Los Altos School District is now looking at the idea of having Bullis Charter move to San Jose - there is a huge lack of space for schools in either Palo Alto or Los Altos. So - if Ms. Mah continues to work for her own interests, that is Mandarin Immersion in Palo Alto - instead of focusing on all the students then I suggest she be permitted to set up her Mandarin charter in San Jose, where there is plenty of land at a reasonable price.
Posted by Basic Aid Maven, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm
I've been reading... There are 130 basic aid districts right now, due to the reduction in the revenue limit. Expect that to decrease to something like 30 or so as the revenue limit rises, especially if the governor redistributed monies as he has proposed.
PAUSD does own Paly, Gunn, Escondido and Nixon land. However if no longer used for school use, Gunn land reverts to Stanford. Apparently, the district owns the others outright. If you look at Stanford's land ownership there is actually a good bit of land right around Escondido that Leyland didn't buy (or that someone sold at some point).
Posted by palo alto mom, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm
Interesting comment about Bullis, an appellate court in LA decided that school districts have to make an effort to locate Charters where they request, but do NOT have to locate them there. Current students at a school (non-charter) can not be forced to move just for the benefit of the charter school (that would unfairly benefit the charter students over the other students). So LASD could decide that the best way to fairly serve the needs of the Bullis students would be to rent a space somewhere else in the County.